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In memory of 

His Highness Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan 

The founder of the new United Arab Emirates 




%J p u 


B L I S H I N G 


The Architecture of the 
United Arab Emirates 

Published by 

Garnet Publishing Ltd 

8 Southern Court, South Street 

Reading, RG1 4QS, UK 

Text copyright © 

Saltna Samar Damhiji 2006 

For illustrations see p. 320 

All rights reserved. 
No part of this book may be 
reproduced in any form or by any 
electronic or mechanical means, 
including information storage and 
retrieval systems, without permission 
in writing from the publishers, except 
by a reviewer who may quote brief 
passages in a review. 

First Edition 2006 

ISBN-13: 978-1-85964-156-9 
ISBN-10: 1-85964-156-3 

British Library Cataloguing-in- 
Publication Data 

A catalogue record for this book is 
available from the British Library. 

Emma G. Hawker 

David Rose 
Samantha Barden 
Mike Hinks 
Janette Hill 
Neil Collier 

Nick Holroyd 

Printed in the Lebanon 

Map of the United Arab Emirates 
Note on Transliteration 




Salma Samar Damluji 

Adapting to Change 

Frauke Heard-Bey 



Brave New Cities 

Salma Samar Damluji 

Urbanism and Town Planning 

Nazar Othman Ahmad 

Constraints and Opportunities 


Housing Development in Al 'Ayn 

Talal M.Abdullah 



i*5s *».-.** ft /• 


The Islamic Architecture of Dalma Island 151 

Geoffrey King 

The Urban Architecture of Al Bastakiyyah 179 

Keith Olroyd-Robinson 

The Ancient Mosques of Ra's al Khaymah 205 

Didier Willems 

The Forts and Towers of Al 'Ayn 

Hasan Muhammad Al Naboodah 

Analysis of the Square: Al Murabba'ah 

Abdul Sattar Al-Azzawi 

In Search of the Vernacular 

Salma Samar Damluji 










A R A B I 

A N 

Note on Transliteration 

The scheme used is that of Arabian Studies of the University of 
Cambridge. Proper names and non-architectural terms which have 
an accepted English spelling - e.g. Muscat, wadi, muezzin - are given 
in this way. 




































































All quotations from the Qur'an are taken from the edition published 
by Dar al 'Arabiyyah, Beirut, 1968, translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. 

All AD and AH (Hijrah) conversions are drawn from The Islamic and 
Christian Calendars by G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, published by 
Garnet, Reading, 1995. 


The cities of the United Arab Emirates present a 
fascinating case study of the urban development 
which results when planning, architectural design and 
construction are wholly fashioned after the modern 
order. The study is all the more interesting when viewed 
in the context of the specific environment and the 
cultural fabric of a desert region in Arabia that has 
undergone an unprecedented form of development since 
the late 1960s. The coming of modern architecture and 
the International Style, in the cities of Abu Dhabi 
and Dubai in particular, was coupled with extensive 
cultivation projects implemented in an originally barren 
and arid landscape bordering on the expanse of the 
desert sands. The quality of change has therefore been 
ecological in terms of the effects seen in the built and 
natural environment. Each Emirate, however, represents a 

different criterion in terms of architectural development, 
urban setting and resultant ecological implications. The 
accelerated construction projects, encompassing the infra- 
structure and superstructures, dictate an ongoing process 
of urban development which has marked an exceptional 
building experience with implications generally for the 
evolution of the city, town and landscape. 

The research described in this book has taken into 
account the vernacular context through the traditional 
forms of building that existed in the area, while examining 
underlying concepts of the 'master plan' studies adopted 
for the major city centres. This was approached by 
looking at the phases of growth and change within 
the immediate urban fabric of the centres and the 
relationship of this development with the towns and 
settlements of the periphery. However, while the master 


plans of Dubai and al 'Ayn were provided for review by 
the writer, the Abu Dhabi town-plan studies were not 
available for the purpose of this work. 

Another aspect of interest is the socio-economic 
factors and influences that determine the nature and 
quality of urban development, and possibly the character- 
istics attached to architectural design and represented 
styles. These factors are a key to understanding the 
architectural story of the towns and cities of the UAE, 
their past and future development. Of critical interest 
is the emphasis on the restoration, renovation and 
reconstruction of the traditional architecture and the 
directions indicating the use of Islamic or vernacular 
architectural features and elements in modern building 

The natural backdrop to the cities of the Arabian 
Gulf is dramatic, distinguished by the immaculate 
expanse of desert sands that encroach upon the setting of 
the major cities on the serene blue shores of the Arabian 
Gulf to the north and the Gulf of Oman to the east. 
Accompanied by the historic values embedded in the 
region of Arabia, the quest for analysing and projecting 
the complex forces that contributed to the formation of 
those modern Arab cities becomes compelling, on an 
international scale, and intellectually challenging. 

The documentation and research presented in 
this book includes contributions by professionals and 
specialists in the UAE who have witnessed this process of 
urban development from an internal viewpoint, and on a 
multi-disciplinary level. The encouraging reception 
and cooperation received from national and private 
institutions while researching this project, confirmed the 
need for a publication that reviewed the features of the 
architecture and the implemented urban planning 
projects, without undermining the contextual aspects 
both within and those subsequently alienated from 
the cityscape: such as the traditional architecture and 
remaining elements of the architectural heritage. Here, 
it is portrayed in parallel in order to inform the reader of 
future avenues that might be explored. 

Any book that attempts to cover a whole region 
or an entire country will be expected to qualify as a 
comprehensive catalogue with an impartial coverage. 

This book is neither conclusive nor passive in its account. 
It has attempted to represent first-hand views and 
experiences even though they may be contradictory 
to the development assumptions and aspirations of 
national or international architectural practice. The 
ambivalent situation of form, function and structure in 
architecture and cities requires consideration. Henri 
Lefebvre, in his work Writings on Cities, investigates this 
ambiguity or plurality of meanings which is attached to 
the term 'urban form', pointing out that 'The plurality 
and confusion of the meanings serve an absence of 
thought and poverty which takes itself for wealth'. This 
may explain a complacent condition that has accompanied 
the development of urban form irrespective of social or 
cultural barriers. 1 In an attempt to clarify this condition, 
the treatment of both the modern and vernacular has 
been approached through a select number of projects. 

This book is divided into two parts: modern 
architecture and vernacular architecture. By way of 
introduction Frauke Heard-Bey discusses the historical 
context of the UAE with an account of the basic 
development of the capital city which she has witnessed 
over the three decades that she has lived there. 

The first chapter of Modern Architecture questions 
the form of new cities, the contribution of international 
architectural practice and the state of modern Islamic 
architecture. A background to the process of operation is 
also identified and discussed (Abu Dhabi and al Ayn), 
citing diverse projects that include the al Ayn Oasis and 
the settlement of the Bedouin community in the Llwa 
desert. Then Nazar Othman Ahmad reviews the urban 
development of Abu Dhabi by providing an insight into 
the town planning of the city, and Abbad al Radi discusses 
the constraints and opportunities involved in architectural 
practice and presents some examples of buildings in the 
city of Abu Dhabi. Both contributors have been partners 
in private practice in the UAE since the 1980s. An inter- 
view held with Talal Abdullah provides his contribution 
of an insider's view of housing development in the city of 
al Ayn, and the changing criteria for popular housing in 

The consideration of vernacular architecture in 
the second half of the book has been augmented with 


contributions by Geoffrey King on the architecture of 
Dalma Island (buildings which were reconstructed by 
conservation procedures), Keith Olroyd-Robinson, who 
carried out an extensive survey of the housing and urban 
fabric of al Bastakiyyah quarter in Dubai, and Didier 
Willems who has carried out research and architectural 
surveys of the mosques of the Northern Emirates, with 
the section on Ra's al Khaymah published here. Hasan al 
Naboodah gives a general account of the forts of al 'Ayn, 
which were the subject of a survey he conducted and here 
supplemented by architectural surveys. Abdul Sattar al 
Azzawi, responsible for the work carried out in the 
regeneration of heritage buildings in Sharjah, Dalma 
and Kalba', contributes with a reading into the nuances, 
meanings and function of the tower: al burj and the 
murabba'ah tower house, with particular reference to 
Arabic literature. The final chapter covers the prominent 
work carried out in cities like Sharjah and Dubai on 
the reconstruction of traditional buildings, regeneration 
schemes, and the implications and reality of the re- 
establishment of traditions and heritage on the modern 
urban fabric and architectural thought. 

Salma Samar Damluji 


An historical background to traditional and 
modern living conditions in the United Arab Emirates 

Frauke Heard-Bey 

Climatic conditions 

The striking difference on comparing a map of the 
Trucial States - as the area was called before the 
foundation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971 - with 
one showing the country at the end of the last century, 
is that previously distinct settlements have increased 
dramatically in size and in some instances now form 
continuous urban areas, running from one town to the 
next. What has not changed is that historically the major 
towns were all situated on the coast (with the exception 
of al 'Ayn and Dhaid), and it is the coastal area where 
most of the spectacular urban expansion of recent years 
has taken place. 1 

The reason for the uneven population distribution 
is the climate. Before electricity became available in the 
1960s, the people who lived in this area 'lived lives to 
which a hundred generations have specialised them 
in conditions barely tolerable to others'. 2 Nowadays 
summer visitors to the UAE may experience a few 
moments of discomfort as they walk from an air- 
conditioned car to the cool comfort of a marble-clad 
hotel, but they will not have to endure the heat and 
humidity prevailing in the area during the months from 
May to September with temperatures often well above 


Minaret of the mosque, Abu Dhabi town 

45°C and with over 90 per cent humidity on the coast. In 
this day and age, none of the residents - whatever their 
status - have to withstand this climate without some 
relief, at least at night-time, from air-conditioning or 
a fan. 

Yet it was not the discomfort of extreme heat and 
humidity which made living conditions in this area so 
very inhospitable, it was the aridity of the entire region 
which profoundly influenced the lives of people. 
Permanent settlements need reliable sources of water 
for drinking, for livestock and for agriculture. Water 
was the focus of the traditional society's economy, 
determining the choice of location for its settlements and 
for its daily and yearly routines. The absence of water 
limited the usability of the vast open spaces beyond the 
small settlements. 

The sources of water were rain water and well water 
or spring water. There are no rivers in the entire region. 
Annual rainfall figures are low, about 107 millimetres a 
year away from the mountains. The rains are erratic, 
unevenly distributed and more frequent near the 
mountains.' All areas of the country experience a certain 
amount of rainfall almost every year - but some parts of 
the country may go without rain for several years. 
Although it usually rains between November and April, 


heavy showers and even freak floods can occur during 
the summer months in isolated locations. 

In the past the management of water as the single 
most precious resource was a community effort and 
required a great deal of organization and coordination. 
The mountains of the region are generally devoid of top- 
soil to retain the rain. Instead, flash floods rush down the 
wadis, gathering stones and mud, and then either flow 
directly into the sea or flood low plains and then evap- 
orate quickly in the high temperatures. In anticipation of 
rain, fields and terraces were prepared to benefit imme- 
diately from the water without losing the soil through 
uncontrolled flow. Rain water was collected in cisterns, 
often with the help of an elaborate system of stone-lined 
channels. On the waterless sandy islands rain water was 
directed into cisterns by pegging out sails to create a 
catchment area. Finally, some of the rain water soaks 
away into aquifers, from which it can be drawn via wells. 

The ingenious falaj system in which rain-fed spring 
water was brought to settlements was used in the region 
for many centuries, if not millennia. A tunnel or falaj was 
built from an area where good soil on flat ground 
promised profitable agriculture to reach a source of 
water from an aquifer in a mountainous area, possibly 
20 or more kilometres away. Vertical shafts provided 
ventilation while the tunnel was being built, as well as a 
means of bringing the excavated material to the surface, 
and access for maintenance. The falaj ended in an open 
section, where the community obtained its drinking 
water; further downstream the animals were watered and 
people could bathe and do their washing before the rush- 
ing stream was divided into smaller and smaller rivulets, 

through which the water was distributed to the date 
gardens in meticulously timed deliveries. 

There was a limit to how deep a well or tunnel 
could be excavated with the tools that were available. 
Access to fossil water aquifers was therefore excluded 
because - where they exist at all - the water is very deep 
below the surface. Generally the further away from the 
mountains, the deeper underground is even the source of 
run-off rain water. 

Many wells in the desert hinterland of Dubai con- 
tain good water but there is no such aquifer under Abu 
Dhabi Island, where the population had to rely on very 
shallow wells in which the rain, mist and humidity which 
soaked through low dunes was collected in lenses on top 
of the saline water table. The discovery of this limited 
source of water on the stretch of coast and coastal islands, 
which is dominated by salty mud flats called sabkhah 
which are devoid of fresh water, led to the foundation of 
the town of Abu Dhabi in 1 760. An additional reason for 
siting the new economic and political centre of the tribal 
confederation of the Bam Yas on this island was that a 
natural channel leading through the shallow coastline 
made it possible for boats to sail right up to the northern 
shore of the island as well as to the more protected inlet 
of nearby Batln. There are other navigable channels west 
of Abu Dhabi town, notably at Dhabaiyyah and Jebel 
Dhannah, but the lack of sweet water meant that no 
other permanent settlements were founded on any of 
these inlets - the nearest suitable location with limited 
sources of water being the bay of Khaur al Udaid at the 
base of the Qatar Peninsula, some 350 kilometres west of 
Abu Dhabi town. 


Traditional settlements 

The UAE is home to many different tribes. At the 
turn of the last century in what was then called the 
Trucial States, 44 principal tribes were identified. 4 Over 
time, the number of tribes has changed because they 
formed alliances or split and became independent under 
their own shaykh. The shaykhs in the past acted as judges 
within their communities and rallied the male members 
in times of strife. 

villages varied because the houses were built using 
different materials, depending on what was available 
locally. Away from the mountains, stones were usually 
impossible to come by. Mud is also unavailable in the 
sandy desert of the hinterland and in short supply on the 
Gulf coast. The most prevalent building material was the 
date palm which grows throughout the UAE wherever 
there is water. 


Old Arab quarters on Das Island 

The socio-political structure of these tribal sub- 
divisions was visible in most settlements where clusters 
of houses were separated from each other by empty 
spaces of sand, wadi gravel or beach, depending on the 
geographical location of the settlement. Such areas were 
usually inhabited by members of the same sub-tribe. The 
extended families in the settlement would in turn try to 
keep a little distance from the other families around 
them, even though they might be related to each other. 
None of the towns and very few of the villages of the 
Trucial States were inhabited by a single tribe or sub- 
tribes, but they were a patchwork of separate quarters, 
often having their own neighbourhood mosques. 

Even though settlement patterns were fairly similar 
throughout the area, the appearance of towns and 


Barasti huts, Abu Dhabi town 


A scene in Abu Dhabi town 


Every house in the crescent-shaped line of small 
Llwa oases in the southern desert of Abu Dhabi, most of 
the houses in Abu Dhabi town, in Dubai, Sharjah, the 
other coastal settlements and those in the large oasis of 
al Ayn and al Burayml due east of Abu Dhabi, were built 
ingeniously using the various parts of the date palm. 
Palm trunks were used for the frame and the roof beam, 
where this was necessary. The palm branches were 
stripped of leaves and tied together with ropes made of 
the fibre surrounding the foot of the tree trunk to make 
large solid mats which provided the walls of the house. In 
the summer, the wind could blow through the gaps, 
allowing for natural ventilation; in the winter one or two 
additional layers were added for warmth. The palm 
fronds provided the raw material for densely woven 
thinner mats, several layers of which formed the roof. 
They were also hung on the inside of the walls for extra 
protection in the winter and were often spread on the 
floor - otherwise the floor was just sand which was 
renewed from time to time. The form of these houses 
varied according to the geographical area but they were 
never more than one storey high. Some had flat roofs, 
hidden behind the bushy ends of the palm branches, 
which were left protruding upwards beyond the rooftop. 5 
These are usually called khaymah, which is also the word 
for 'tent'. Elsewhere, and in particular on the east coast, 
the palm frond houses had gabled sloping roofs and are 
called 'arishah - but these names are interchangeable on 
occasion. The word 'barasti' is used in English for all 
types of palm-frond house and is not an Arabic term. 

A smaller variation of the palm-frond house was 
found in the mountains: the lower part of the walls was 
built with rough boulders, the floor was often lower than 
the surrounding ground, the frame was made from palm 
trunks and the structure was completed with a sloping 
roof which was covered with palm branches or thick 
layers of brushwood and palm-frond mats. These houses 
were not necessarily used on a permanent basis by a large 
family, but rather by whoever looked after the family date 
garden or the terraces in the distant wadi. 

There is no shortage of alternative building mater- 
ials in the mountains or on the coastal plains on either 
side of the Hajar range of mountains, where the wadi 

beds are strewn with boulders, gravel or fine mud. Thus 
in the Ra's al Khaymah area, in the large coastal oasis 
of Diba, in Fujairah, Khawr Fakkan, Kalba' and other 
villages on the east coast and in the mountain villages, 
houses and forts were frequently built of stone, examples 
of which can still be seen today. There is a wide range in 
the size and finish of the various types of stone houses, 
depending on the means of the owner. Some were built 
with stone up to the roof, which was then completed in 
the usual manner with palm branches. Others - as can be 
seen at the fort of Hail in the hinterland of Fujairah - 
were clad with mud and/or juss, a locally made plaster, 
which permitted the application of internal and external 
decoration on the walls, ceilings and crenellations along 
the roofs. 

Compared to such well-finished mountain fort- 
resses the towers in some of the desert locations seem 
very rough and rudimentary; but it was none the less an 
achievement to bring together enough of the rather 
friable building material, which forms a hard surface on 
some of the inter-dune floors in the Llwa, to build a 
simple watch tower and refuge for the Bedouin in times 
of warfare. 6 Similar slabs of sandstone or solitary 
outcrops of fossil coral are found intermittently along the 
coast; such material was used to build the fort in Abu 

Mud-brick buildings with palm-frond roofs were 
common in the oasis of al Ayn and Burayml about 1 60 
kilometres east of Abu Dhabi town, in Dhaid, in the 
smaller inland oases and in some of the villages on the 
East Coast. However, on the western side of the Gulf 
coast, away from the mountains, the most commonly 
used material for building substantial houses with two 
storeys was coral. Pieces of coral, usually round and 
weighing up to two kilograms, could be found in the 
shallows of the sea. They were piled up on the beach and 
exposed to the rain to wash out some of the salt. Due to 
the nature of its high porosity, walls constructed of these 
pieces of coral provide excellent thermal insulation. 
Examples of such coral stone buildings can still be seen 
in some of the old parts of the coastal settlements 
between Sharjah and Jazlrt al Hamra near Ra's al 
Khaymah and in Kalba'. 


Traditional economies 

Apart from the scarcity of water, other resources 
Lwere not plentiful either in this parched and barren 
country. Yet the 'versatile tribesman' 7 managed to wrest 
a living from the land, and for generation after gener- 
ation he raised his family in the proud Bedouin spirit of 
a particular code of conduct, which is legendary among 
Arabs. In order not to have to rely on one economic 
activity alone, and combining several resources and skills 
in different places and at different times of the year, 
many families opted for mobility. Their principal wealth 
was often their camels, which provided them with milk, 
meat, hair, hide, transport and an income if bartered or 
sold. The camel-owning families usually also owned 
some date trees or an entire palm grove in one of the 
oases in the desert or in a wadi. The harvested dates were 
treated in such a way that they did not spoil for months, 
even years, and together with the camel milk they 
provided the staple food. Dates could be taken on 
months-long camel trips or on board ship to provide the 
maximum amount of energy for the minimum amount of 
weight. Some families, particularly those on the east 

coast, exploited the resources of the sea, while tending 
also their date gardens. The nomads of the mountains 
of the Musandam Peninsula shared the year between 
farming on top of the mountains or in the wadis in the 
winter, and looking after their herds of goats and fishing 
in the summer. 8 

Thus the nomadic way of life was a way of adapting 
to the adverse climate and the scarcity of water. 9 It 
allowed for the very scant resources of scattered grazing 
and limited water for irrigation in the vast areas of desert, 
mountains and coast to be exploited, averting over-use 
with a system of tribal sharing and mutual assistance in 
minding camels and harvesting dates. 

Where water was more plentiful, permanent settle- 
ments could be sustained; but there too, the inhabitants 
had to maximize locally available resources as well as 
draw on other resources outside their village or town. 
Having dealt with the issue of securing the supply of 
water for the community, other factors determined 


Caravan trek in the Liwa district, Abu Dhabi 

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whether a particular settlement prospered or not in the 
course of time: economic viability depended on much 
more than water. Whether an oasis was inhabited 
temporarily for the date harvest or whether it was a 
permanently inhabited centre depended largely on its 
geography. The many small oases of the Llwa are located 
in a sea of huge sand dunes; and in the past, in the 
absence of artificial fertilizer and pumped water, this 
sand could only support date palms. The large oasis of al 
'Ayn and Burayml on the other hand was blessed with 
fertile soil, on which fruit trees, grain and vegetables 
could be cultivated, and its strategic location made it an 
attractive market for the tribes to the west of the Hajar 
range of mountains. 

Trade was crucial for the prosperity of many of the 
settlements - and obviously still is. In ancient times over- 
land trade flourished, as did a string of well-defended 
and wealthy cities, which benefited in particular from the 
incense trade. These cities lined the trade routes, not 
only to the north-west of the producer country Dhofar 
through Yemen to Gaza, but also to the north-east along 
the edge of the mountains. The al 'Ayn-Burayml oasis 
played an important part in pre-Islamic times as a 
crossroad for trade and in later centuries as a staging 

post for the forces which brought Islam to the area and 
to Oman. 

In medieval times, trade became predominantly 
seaborne when the Arabs of the Gulf and Oman were 
able to navigate the Indian Ocean. The settlements, 
located astride sheltered, deep and easily defended ports 
gained in importance: Kalba', Khawr Fakkan and Diba 
on the east coast, as well as Julfar (the predecessor of Ra's 
al Khaymah), Sharjah and Jumairah on the Gulf coast, 
all flourished at different times. However, the rise and 
decline of trading centres along these coasts were also 
influenced by politics, which in turn were often governed 
by the health and wealth of distant markets on which 
trade depended. For instance, when in the second half of 
the eighteenth century the influence of the Persians 
declined after the death of Nadir Shah, the Arab tribes 
living on either side of the Gulf, near its entrance, were 
once again able to dominate trade in the Gulf and 
beyond it. Their settlements expanded, and in particular 
the fortified town of Ra's al Khaymah, which became a 
seat of the Qasiml rulers and in due course developed 
rapidly as an economic and strategic centre. 10 


Dubai harbour 


I I 

The pearling industry 

The pearls of the Gulf have long been appreciated as 
beautiful possessions and are even mentioned in 
some 4,000 year-old cuneiform tablets from Ur in 
Mesopotamia. During the nineteenth century the 
demand for pearls increased in India, and by the begin- 
ning of the twentieth century the fashion for wearing 
these oriental treasures spread from the drawing rooms 
of the British in India to the salons of Paris and New 
York. The growth in the market for pearls changed what 
had been an occasional occupation for a few people into 
an industry which came to dominate the economy of the 
Arab tribes of the Gulf. 

Pearls grow inside a proportion of particular types 
of oysters which live on the sea bed, at depths of up to 
about 35 metres. The best pearls used to be found off the 
southern coast of the Gulf, in particular around the 
island of Dalma. Initially, the Bedouin tribes formed 
cooperatives which owned and equipped wooden boats 
known as dhows, and shared the proceeds of the season as 
diving was only possible in the summer months. During 

the last decades of the nineteenth century and the 
early part of the twentieth century the number of boats 
needed to satisfy the market increased dramatically to 
about 1 ,200 for the Trucial Coast. 11 By then almost all the 
boats, which were built from wood imported from India 
or East Africa, belonged to pearl traders or merchants, 
who could afford the big financial risks but also earned 
the largest profits. The tribesmen flocked to the coast in 
ever-increasing numbers for the season to man the boats, 
leaving the care of their date palms and camels in the 
hands of the women and the elderly. Eventually such was 
the demand for crews to operate the growing number of 
pearling boats that more people were brought from 
neighbouring Makran as well as East Africa. 

This influx of people led to the rapid growth of 
coastal settlements. Abu Dhabi town, which was devel- 
oped with a view to greater participation in maritime 
activities when Shaykh Shakhbut bin Dhiyab built a fort 


General view of Dubai harbour 



there in the 1790s, was the home port for 410 pearling 
boats in the first decade of the twentieth century and 
supported a population of about 6,000 during the winter 
months. 12 Some families, enticed by several seasons of 
good cash earnings, abandoned their economic involve- 
ment in the desert or the wadis of the mountains entirely 
to live all year long in one of the coastal towns on their 
share of the proceeds of the pearling industry. Their wealth 
was now counted in money, not animals or date palms. 

The growth of the cash economy stimulated 
consumption of imported goods and helped trade to 
flourish. Dubai and Sharjah, where creeks reaching 
several kilometres inland behind a protective sandbar 
provided sheltered harbour facilities, grew steadily as 
centres for seaborne trade on the Trucial Coast. In 1 902 
an adverse customs policy introduced by distant Tehran 
so alienated the community of Arab merchants trading 
out of Khamlr in Bastak, Lingah and other ports on the 
Persian coast of the Gulf, that they settled in Dubai. 
They brought with them their trading connections and 
the twin towns of Dubai and Dayrah on either side of 
the creek profited from the increase of business to the 
extent that in 1904 the weekly steamer service was 
rescheduled for Dubai. 

Dubai town was transformed by the influx of 
merchant families, as they began building large coral- 
stone houses with windtowers, a feature used in town 
houses on the opposite coast and designed to provide 
some cooling during the summer. They changed the 
skyline of the area immediately adjacent to al Fahidl fort 
in Dubai and of Shidagha, the quarter which occupies 
the peninsula forming the entrance to the Dubai creek. 
Houses with windtowers were subsequently also built by 
the wealthy families in Sharjah and in Abu Dhabi town. 

The pearling boom came to a sudden decline when 
the markets were swamped with newly invented cultured 
pearls from Japan, which coincided with the world eco- 
nomic crisis of the 1930s. Those tribal families who had 
come to rely exclusively on the pearling industry for their 
livelihood suffered a great deal. The impact of World 
War II made things worse, with towns and villages on the 
coast suffering particular impoverishment. The families, 
who had purchased date gardens in the good years, 
now had to make full use of their possessions. Others 
emigrated to neighbouring oil-producing countries when 
activity picked up there in the 1950s. 

Below and left 

Windtowers, Dubai town 



The oil industry 

Initially the activities of the oil company Petroleum 
Development Trucial Coast (PDTC), which started to 
make use of the concessions it had secured between 1936 
and 1939, had little impact on the living conditions of the 
inhabitants of the area - not even for the nationals who 
had become employees of the company. Those involved 
in the early exploration campaigns lived in army-style 
tents on the beach or in the desert. 

There were nevertheless some major changes 
during the 1940s in the appearance of the coastal towns, 
one of the most important being the construction of a new 
fort in Abu Dhabi. The Ruler, Shaykh Shakhbut, had 
decided to improve the accommodation for himself and 
the families of his brothers and sisters. Instead of building 
a new fort elsewhere on the island, the new building was 
planned to surround the old one, leaving the latter stand- 
ing in one corner of the large courtyard with its elegant 
arcades on the ground-floor level and along the first-floor 
gallery. The new fort was an imposing building, which 
stood by itself at some distance from the sea and the town, 

dominating the view of Abu Dhabi from every angle 
before the tremendous changes a few decades later. The 
fort was originally the soft colour of the mud with which 
its walls were finished; later it was painted white. 

In the 1950s the British Government was respon- 
sible for some additional construction on the coast in the 
form of new houses and offices for its representatives, 
first in Dubai and eventually in Abu Dhabi, and schools. 
The first of these was completed in 1959 in Abu Dhabi 
and consisted of a simple row of classrooms resembling 
a train in appearance. 

In 1 962 the first oil was exported from offshore Abu 
Dhabi; production from the big onshore oil fields, which 
were found by the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company 
(ADPC), came on stream in 1964, by which time the 
increase in economic activity and population had already 
begun to transform the towns on the coast and even 
made an impact in the hinterland. 


The Ruler's Palace, Abu Dhabi 




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Top, above and above right 

The Ruler's Palace, Abu Dhabi 

Bottom right 

Aerial view of Abu Dhabi, showing the Ruler's Palace 



Changes since the 1960s 

Living conditions in the country were changed for 
good with the introduction of concrete. No longer 
was the construction industry confined to the limited 
resources of locally available building materials: stone, 
mud, coral, and palm, and the only affordable import, 
chandal wood from India. In due course, an abundant 
number of do-it-yourself machines were introduced 
into every Emirate, and with cement, gravel and water 
so-called 'breeze-blocks' were produced on site. These 
were stuck together with more cement and helped to 
create the first generation of non-traditional houses. 
Throughout the 1960s one of the constraints on con- 
structing buildings more than two storeys high was a 
chronic shortage of wood, but this was gradually over- 
come by better organization of imports and eventually 
the use of metal-reinforced concrete. 

Initially the construction of new buildings was 
primarily aimed at providing offices for the large 
number of companies, including oil company services, 
shipping agents, importers, consultants and banks, 
who moved in. More office space was needed for the 
expanding local administration, schools and the fledgling 
military establishments in each Emirate. There was 
no accommodation available for rent anywhere in the 
country - the local style of living in barasti compounds 
was not considered suitable for most expatriates. 13 
New housing had to be provided for the large number of 
expatriates, who arrived - often with their families - to 
work in the oil industry, the banks, the military, the new 
hospitals, the administration and the schools. 

From the middle of the 1960s, new concrete 
buildings also became a reality for the local population, 
first in the bigger coastal towns and later in the hinter- 
land. In 1966 Shaykh Zayed took over as the Ruler of 
Abu Dhabi. One of the early measures aimed at improving 
life for the people of this Emirate was to accelerate a 
project started by his brother Shaykh Shakhbut to build 
more government-provided housing for hundreds of 
tribal families living in barastis in Abu Dhabi town. More 

of these so-called 'low-cost houses' were built at Abu 
Dhabi's expense in the 1960s in Fujairah. In the 1970s 
the new federal government and the governments of 
the individual Emirates continued with this scheme of 
providing every family who could not afford to build 
their own new house with modern accommodation. In 
Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with the ever-expanding economy 
and numerous business opportunities, local businessmen 
built modern houses for their families as soon as they 
were able and local government encouraged this by 
providing free building plots. 

Pumped water and electricity amounted to a 
revolution in the living standards of the population. 
Water was no longer fetched from the well or delivered 
by the donkey man, but came through a pipe into every 
modern house. The lives of women in particular were 
transformed: they were freed from the chore of fetching 
water and could adopt the new standards in health and 
hygiene which were being impressed on them. The 
introduction of electricity gave households not only the 
benefit of light at night-time but also the power needed 
for air-conditioning and to pump water to roof tanks, 
and it enabled every family to operate a radio, once local 
stations started up in 1969. 14 

The demand for electricity has increased in leaps 
and bounds since the first generation of power stations 
was built in the early 1960s in what were relatively 
remote locations and which are now considered the 
centres of towns. 15 The huge combined plants of today 
for the generation of electricity and the production of 
desalinated water are sited miles away from towns 
and supply communities hundreds of miles away in an 
integrated system. The governments of the individual 
Emirates and the federal government are under constant 
pressure to plan ahead to provide enough water and 
power when and where it is needed. The population 
has grown accustomed to having these commodities 
available at any time - they have become an integral part 
of life in this country, where not long ago people were 



used to going without a drink of water, let alone a cold 

While the local people's immediate environment, 
their homes and their way of living were revolutionized 
when they moved into modern houses, their living 
conditions were just as affected by the changes happening 
on a larger scale. In Abu Dhabi, which had a growing 
income from oil exports since 1962, and in Dubai, where 
oil exports started in 1969, a steady and increasing flow 
of funds was available for housing and other projects, and 
the other Emirates benefited - to a lesser degree - 
through money donated for particular projects or to the 
Trucial States Development Fund. Initially projects 
were directed from the Rulers' courts, but soon the 
task of bringing about the realization of the numerous 
and multi-faceted development plans required the 
establishment of governments with departments for the 
various specialized operations. When the seven Emirates 
together founded the United Arab Emirates in December 
1971, federal ministries were created, which took 
on many of the tasks carried out previously by local 
governments. But today local governments have a very 
high profile in the development and transformation of 
the physical world throughout the Emirates. 

People's lives were possibly most of all affected by 
the rapid development in transport. In the past, transport 
within the towns was provided by donkeys; outside the 
towns and in the hinterland it had to be by camel. 


A typical scene in Abu Dhabi 


Part of a new road at the Customs Fort, Abu Dhabi 


On the main road passing through Abu Dhabi 



Journeys between the Emirates and from the Gulf coast 
to the east coast were made by boat. From the 1930s 
some of the shaykhs and a few merchants imported cars 
for themselves and the oil companies brought in Land 
Rovers and desert-going trucks, but by 1966 there were a 
mere 100 vehicles in the town of Abu Dhabi. There was 
a widespread lack of roads - tracks in the sand or crudely 
compacted salt mud, sabkhah, being the alternatives to 
the trackless desert. The 1 7 kilometres between Dubai 
and Sharjah and the road from Abu Dhabi to al Ayn 
were the only stretches of road constructed before 
federation. In the 1970s properly constructed roads 
began to spread out from the densely populated coastal 
towns to the oases, wadis and villages. At the end of the 
1990s there was hardly a village which could not be 
reached by car, even if the last few kilometres had to be 
driven on a graded track rather than a metalled road. 

Life was transformed by this revolution of mobility: 
building materials and consumer goods could be trans- 
ported to any part of the country; the produce from 
gardens in a wadi or on the plain of the east coast could 
be sold in the larger markets of Dubai and Sharjah; men 
and women from different Emirates could take up work 
in an office of the federal government in Abu Dhabi or 
Dubai; and the University, which opened its doors in 
1977, was able to be sited in al Ayn because of improved 
communications. The proliferation of privately owned 
cars and cheap taxis also means that there is no limit to 
the lateral expansion of the growing cities. For the local 
population of the UAE cars have become absolutely 
essential. People have become accustomed to arranging 
their lives in a way which makes it necessary to cover 
great distances very frequently because they often work 
in one place while the family lives in another, the 



children study at yet another place and everybody meets 
for the weekend on the family farm somewhere else 
again. This greatly increased personal mobility now 
contributes a great deal in terms of welding together the 
different parts of the country: while working or studying 
together, the people from distant Emirates and different 
tribes have formed the bonds that have helped the UAE 
to become a nation. 

In some respects the people of the UAE have 
adapted very quickly to every phase of change in living 
conditions. But some aspects of modern living have only 
been adopted very reluctantly, the most noticeable being 
the issue of living in high-rise buildings. Women do not 
feel comfortable when they have to meet strangers, 
which is inevitable if a family shares lifts, corridors, 
pavements and parking areas with other users of a block 
of flats. People are used to living together with or in close 
proximity to the members of their extended family and 
are not used to living near total strangers. They therefore 
still prefer to live in houses with their married children, 
brothers and uncles all inside the same large shared 
compound, or to build their houses next to each other. In 
order to have enough space to spread out in this way, 
local families have tended to opt for bigger plots of land 
- even if it means living ever further out of town. 

However, a growing number of employees, particu- 
larly those in positions in the federal government, have 
no choice but to live in an Emirate away from where 
their extended family has its roots and its family home. 
They are usually provided with a flat which is their home 
for the week, and rejoin their family at the weekend 
because their wives and children prefer to remain within 
the family compound. But, as more women move into 
the workforce, the more likely it is that husbands and 
wives will establish themselves as nuclear families and 
even get used to living in high-rise buildings. 

The late 1960s witnessed the beginning of the total 
transformation of the towns and villages of the Trucial 
Coast - yet most of the new construction was then still 
sited outside the existing built-up areas. When families 
first moved out of their traditional homes into houses 
with modern facilities they usually let their old ones 
to groups of expatriate bachelor labourers from the 

subcontinent. They did not replace the old houses in the 
original settlement areas at first: the new houses were 
built nearby - certainly within easy walking distance. But 
as the income from oil grew, the pace of development 
accelerated in every field. To accomplish all the tasks in 
hand, vast numbers of workers were brought into the 
country. They came from all over the globe and from all 
walks of life, from the most highly skilled to manual 
labourers. Soon the momentum of the change entirely 
consumed the small old coastal towns and they became 
cities, which continue to change at an ever-increasing 

The traditional settlement areas remain the focus of 
urbanization. Downtown is where the local families used 
to live in their compounds, but they have long since 
moved out to the periphery of the cities. The areas where 
the original settlements were have become business 
centres, which the local people own and operate but do 
not occupy. It is the expatriates who live in the high-rise 
buildings and populate the old centres of town, which in 
many instances visually dominate the scene. Moving 
away from the location of their traditional settlements 
is not perceived as a dramatic loss by members of local 
families; on the contrary, the improvement in the quality 
of life is gratefully recognized by those who remember 
the time when water, the daily essential, was precariously 
short. Thus, the adaptation to the practical and physical 
changes caused by modern living is, for most families, the 
realization of dreams. 


Bedu family in Liwa, Abu Dhabi 





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Architecture in context: an overview 

Salma Samar Damluji 

The construction of cities in the United Arab 
Emirates coincided with the need to create a 
modern urban reality precipitated by an emerging civil 
state structure. The original urban fabric, prior to the 
newly struck wealth from oil revenues, was modest in 
quality and insignificant in content and composition. A 
number of defensive forts served as palaces and abodes 
for the tribal Shaykhs, with attached mosques and living 
quarters. Houses were constructed in coral-reef rock 
and/or sun-dried mud brick and the traditional l arish 
(woven palm frond) housing. Dwellings were arranged 
in independent quarters, in clusters attached to oases 
(al 'Ayn), with the main town centres forming enclaves 
along the Arabian coast (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, 
Ra's al Khaymah, Umm al Quwayn) and in the case of 
Llwa within the desert expanse bordering on the empty 
quarter. The natural and original landscape, well up until 
the 1960s, was one of an open vast desert dominated 
by tribal communities that maintained a variety of 
traditional and shifting strongholds. 

Emerging in cities of this eastern part of Arabia is a 
strange phenomenon, manifest in the polished concrete 
structures beside lush green gentrified boulevards - 
identifiable with an international trend for the develop- 
ment of skyscraper islands. The urban growth within the 
confines of rigid grid-iron master plans, over the last 
three decades of wealth investment in building, remained 
less deferential to the forming of a paradigm, with few 
conceptual references to the landscape or to the cultural 
and historical environs of Arabia. 

The need for a polemic on Arab/Islamic style has 
become desperately acute in countries where there was 
little original reference to formal Islamic architecture to 
begin with. This is particularly apparent in the UAE. 
It is, however, surprising that, despite three decades 
of building, architectural style has been persistently 
reduced to a process of borrowing. This is most evident 
in surface treatments, where we find a predominant use 
of arches, to signify an Islamic or cultural touch. The 
eclectic forms used in the expression of fagades, as mani- 
fested by international and pan-Arab practices, remain 
meaningless or contrived. Successive examples point to a 
practice that was at best based on the transfer of form, 
short cuts through imitation 1 and, where deliberate effort 
was exerted, often the misrepresentation of the real. 

However, the wealth of Islamic and Arab architecture 
in the region has rarely been understood or emulated in 
contemporary or modern versions. This wealth is dis- 
cerned in some outstanding examples of spatial design 
and structure: the Omayyad Desert Palaces, Andalusia, 
the 'Abbasid khans, palaces and madrasahs, the minaret 
of Samara', the Mamluk Mosque of Sultan Hasan, the 
Safavid Mosque of Shaykh Lutfallah (not to mention the 
exceptional works of Sinan in Istanbul, or the Mughal 
palaces). The configuration of remaining walled cities 
and quarters (Fas, Marrakush, Samarkand, etc) points 
to a serious resource for architecture and planning. 
Irrespective of style and form, these examples of the 
conceptual methodology employed successful references 
and developed a sophisticated vocabulary that was based 



on geometry and the resulting proportion. Interpreted in 
a series of architectural elements, a distinct philosophy 
emerges in the detailed structure of buildings, which 
encompasses the entire work, from the pavements 
through to the roof parapets. In 1975 the Egyptian 
architect Hasan Fathy (d. 1991) pointed to the courtyard 
floor of the Sultan Hasan Mosque in Cairo, and said: 
'This is town planning'. The association between 
abstract patterns and architectural design was illustrated 
by Issam El Said, 2 in the geometric analysis he projected 
on the floor plans and fagades of a number of Islamic 
buildings. The relationship of a unit which is repeated 
to form a pattern equates to the relationship between 
architecture and town planning, i.e. between the build- 
ings and the scheme of order established in the town 

The disclosed content in the subtle concept of the 
wall, on the other hand, in the architecture of Islamic 
cities can still be discerned. The wall played a major 
role in delineating the architectural composition and 
resulting interplay of spaces. Forbidding and defensive 
when enclosing cities, the sur distinguished the status 
of a settlement as a 'city'. On the interior of the city the 
wall assumed other functional interpretations. Narrow 
meandering streets and paths are set off by the relation- 
ship of the walls and their close proximity. The bareness 
and austerity of the outer walls, whether in brick or 
stone, concealed the privacy of the interior life and a 
series of spaces embellished with colour and decorative 
features that were rarely revealed on the exterior. 

The old city of Fez manifests those qualities still in 
its private residential and public quarters. The influence 
of the wall and its articulation in the plan of the town 
cannot be underestimated. It is after all the first element 
that one comes into contact with upon entering a city, a 
street, a madrasah, a mosque or a house - where it fulfils 
the protective and excluding function on the exterior, in 
contrast to the gentle and serene world of the interior. 
Open and closed spaces are affected by the quality and 
form of walls: these reveal and offset gardens, courtyards, 
fountains and halls. The walls are articulated by columns, 
arches and openings, and adorned with geometric 
patterns in zillij cut glazed tiles, stucco and carved-wood 

panelling. Most important is the power that walls assume 
in the town plan, forging the ultimate separation 
between the outside world's mundane reality by virtue of 
withdrawing into the interior seclusion of the spaces they 
contain and provide. 

Critical of the openness and exposure that the 
International Style introduced to building design in the 
Arab world, Hasan Fathy referred to the new style as 
'fagade' architecture, basically one that was committed to 
surface treatment. It was in this context that he defined 
Islamic architecture as being concerned, in his words, 
'with the spaces between the walls, and not the walls 

The fascination of reconstructing the power of the 
aesthetic notwithstanding, within the region the transfer 
of select forms and styles was oblivious to the under- 
lying design principles and accompanying knowledge 
required, to achieve the creative and graceful forms that 
have distinguished Islamic architectural spaces. This 
established a trend in cultural representation, one that 
strove to imitate but failed to comprehend, resulting in 
the displacement of any real identity.' This explains why 
despite phenomenal budgets allocated to constructing 
grand central mosques in the Islamic world in the past 
two decades (for example at Makkah, Madinah, Kuwait 
and Casablanca), seldom have their impact and spatial 
qualities approached those achieved in the mosque in 
Cordoba (even after the desecration of this space by 
anachronistic modification). 

This trend has been applicable to the Arab region's 
modern 'Islamic' architecture - a loose definition given to 
a poor catalogue of eclectic styles. The new style has 
failed to acquire the resonance of a school of architecture, 
inherently viewed as the result of subtle genius which 
was established by successive Islamic dynasties. Formal 
cities and monuments of power aside, the vernacular 
architecture and the urban fabric of towns and quarters 
constructed in mud brick, stone and shale in neighbour- 
ing Arabia merit equal consideration. The planning that 
went into the construction of traditional high-rise cities, 
which continue to function in places such as $an'a', Yafi' 
and Hadramut in Yemen, presents an urban reality that is 
challenging to explore for modern development. 



The choice made by new countries in constructing 
new cities can no longer be assessed within the narrow 
confines of each locality or in isolation from a complete 
opus of an Islamic or Arab architectural and vernacular 
urban heritage, and irrespective of the desire to define the 
nature of a national attitude as modern or advanced in 
outlook. The 'transfer of technological progress' should 
not necessitate the elimination of cultural values and the 
consideration of specific functional and aesthetic content 
in the design and planning of towns and cities. The basic 
understanding of the architectural vocabulary and prin- 
ciples of design that Hasan Fathy tirelessly advocated 
drew on essential concepts. For this he was dismissed by 
the professionals and modernists as a populist and nostal- 
gic builder for the poor. His work (including writings that 
he produced from the mid- 1940s and up to the late 
1980s) effectively provided an alternative school of 
thought for designers and architects in the Arab world, 
who were struggling with the cultural vacuum brought by 
the urban transformation of its modern society. 

The Arab city, if it were to be defined today, could 
subscribe to the criterion of a lost city. In a conference 
held in the Palace of Charles V in Granada, 4 none of the 
participants recalled in any of their deliberations that we 
were only metres away from the Jannat al 'Arif Summer 
Palace (literally 'paradise of the gnostic', translated as 
'Garden of the Artist or Architect', and 'Noblest of 
Gardens', 5 but better known by its Spanish name: 
Generalife) and actually next door to the El Comares 
Palace of Muhammad V Perhaps this was but a reflection 
on the condition of contemporary Arab urban societies, 
whose material history is either too familiar, or too 
complex, to acknowledge. 6 

A review of the architecture of the cities of the UAE 
becomes compelling in view of the context and scenario 
that has emerged. As an important undertaking, this was 
accompanied by an open licence for architects and their 
clients in the development of these cities. The possibility 
that either will assume the intellectual responsibility 
to respond to some critical points of view that UAE 
nationals are beginning to develop, vis-a-vis their new 
cities, is still remote. An Officers' Club constructed in 
the desert, the size of a town, is an interesting case in 

point. The arbitrary interpretation of the desert and the 
Bedouin tent resulted in a mega-concrete shell form. An 
orientalist romantic view is here replaced by a materialist 
vision of outer space, an extraordinary technical engin- 
eering feat of vast proportions. The architect described 
the design he conceived, for the 75-hectare site, as a fixed 
tent and the project as a temple of progress. The first 
concept is anachronistic and the latter a contradiction in 
terms, particularly when contemplating monuments of 
Islamic civilization and the temporal meaning of cities 
and architecture to Arabs. 7 

Upon this open ground of architectural inter- 
vention and in the absence of physical boundaries or no 
restraints, the original development agenda may have 
been met three decades later. However, the true destiny 
of these cities clearly remains subject to interpretation 
and to the conditions of change. 

Paradoxically, the absence of a strong traditional 
background in vernacular building, and a cultural 
reference to implicit environmental criteria, did not 
inspire the vision for an abstract and modest expression. 
The response to the austere barren landscape and the 
dramatic backdrop of the desert sands contrasted with 
the clear waters of the Arabian Gulf, combined with a 
conservative social context, was rather dull. Mute walls, 
blind arches, small openings and a minimalist approach 
that may have developed within a particular style, irre- 
spective of the source of influence - modern, classical, 
European or Islamic references - remained absent in the 
development of mainstream architectural vocabulary. 
Interesting attempts of the concept of the enclosing 
wall were successful in the work of The Architects 
Collaborative (TAC) (Library and Cultural Centre), the 
Ministry of Finance and Industry (Jafar Tukan Partners) 
and al Khaldeya Coop (Planar). The impressive solid 
design of the first was the closest to being a project with 
genuine interpretation and serious consideration for the 
Abu Dhabi urban environment. 

Instead, the measure of expressing the wealth in the 
architecture seemed to become the main criterion used 
by the architects/designers to impress, and please, the 
client. The excessive use of marble and granite in public 
buildings, and particularly hotels, echoed lavish building 



materials typical of the excesses of Capitalist architecture 
in the 1980s. 

The problem facing a formal critical analysis of new 
cities in the context of the UAE lies in presenting a 
specific case that is only comparable to other new Gulf 
states, and in particular those that did not have a strong 
urban heritage to begin with like Kuwait or Qatar (as 
opposed to Bahrain, Oman and Yemen which all possess 
an historic urban fabric). By comparison with the 
planned 'new cities' of the West, the very conditions of 
industrialization which produced them were not present 
in the UAE. Furthermore, and on the international level, 
no conceptual references have been made, within the 
'oeuvre' (to borrow Lefebvre's expression in referring to 
the city as a 'work of art'), to the substantial experience 
of city architecture and town planning, albeit in line 
with the skyscraper cities of Chicago or Manhattan. On a 
conceptual level, a response to the critical discourse on 
modern architecture and cities in the last two decades 
has been considerably lacking. 8 

In the absence of formulating an architectural 
ethos the conditions were not available for creative work 
based on a specific environmental criterion and cultural 
reference, where architects can develop distinctive 
approaches and an emphasis on a high level of conceptual 
inventiveness. As a result, the UAE has not produced a 
particularly interesting opus of modern architectural edi- 
fices, despite the opportunity to exploit an exceptionally 
rich oil economy combined with a liberal structure which 
underlies a unique State-client relationship. The lasting 
relevance of any architectural or urban work in the 
built environment of the city shows how conceptually 
challenging it is. Amidst the built environment few 
examples of serious architecture can be singled out and 
distinguished from flashy commercialism. The latter has 
inevitably been accompanied by dire consequences. 
Modern architecture may have allowed architects to 
become less deferential to the environmental context, 
especially when the built environment is new and based 
on one that lacks distinctive natural features. However, 
this has not impeded the innovative process in modern 
architectural thought and design as practised in cities 
across Europe, where some interesting examples have 

occurred, particularly in situations annexing a classical 
period fabric with new extensions (the Louvre in Paris, 
the National Gallery and the Royal Academy in 

The problem also concerns cities that do not relate 
to any pre-industrial base, but emerged instead out of 
the very urgent demand for an urban structure, infra- 
structure and civil context to entertain and house an 
industry based on the wealth processing of oil revenues. 
This began in the 1 960s and was exacerbated by the oil 
boom in the 1970s, a time, internationally, when modern 
city and town planning was under considerable review in 
debate and reassessment. Consideration of the interesting 
influx and interaction that could have taken place 
between Western and Arab architectural thought against 
the abstract and spartan environment of the Arabian 
Gulf should not be underestimated or dismissed. An 
interesting architectural and art movement had broken 
through in Iraq during the 1960s, where a regional style 
fulfilled both an avant-garde modern style and a rather 
successful framework on the functional and aesthetic 
levels. Incorporating traditional materials and crafts- 
manship, the designs took into account the social and 
climatic criteria of the environment. Concepts became 
rich in cultural expression and deferential to the existing 
elements of formal design, including the enclosed 
garden, courtyard and blind walls that opened onto the 
interior. In the 1960s the architectural practice Iraq 
Consult achieved these qualities by incorporating an 
attractive and meaningful vocabulary in the design of 
multi-storey offices and public, private and commercial 
buildings in Baghdad. 

This was not without precedent for in the 1950s 
Gropius, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and 
Doxiades were invited to Baghdad to work on separate 
schemes that included a master plan for the new Baghdad 
University (TAC 1957) in al Jadriyah, a sports stadium 
(Le Corbusier 1957, constructed in 1979) and a housing 
scheme that Hasan Fathy worked on with Doxiades. 

After several trying experiences beginning with the 
construction of Gourna in the 1940s, followed by a series 
of setbacks after the completion of the village of Baris in 
the Kharjah Oasis, Hasan Fathy found litde reception for 



his projects or his philosophy for housing the poor in an 
architecture based on vernacular building materials and 
inspired by attractive design solutions. By the 1970s, 
however, he was designing villas for the wealthy and the 
elite of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. As an institution in his 
own right (and in a league of his own), he had a valuable 
contribution to make both conceptually and culturally on 
the level of Arab and Islamic architecture. His legacy 
became established in the West, long before it was 
acknowledged at home. During the late 1970s and 1980s 
architect Abdul Wahed al Wakil carried Hasan Fathy's 
ideas further by fully incorporating modern building 
construction techniques while not losing sight of the role 
of creative design in the concepts and elements of 
Islamic, Egyptian and Arabian vernacular architecture 
for both public and private buildings in Saudi Arabia. 
The series of mosques he built involve the most integral 
design work to date, innovative on the conceptual 
principles and the construction demands of modern 
Islamic architecture. 

In the UAE both John Harris'' and Muhammad 
Makiya, as in Oman, 10 contributed to the modernization 
and, in particular, rehabilitation of the vernacular. 
However, their efforts remained confined to a select 
number of projects dominated by the rest of the city. 
Diwan al Amir in Dubai (Harris), close to al Bastakiyyah 
old housing quarter, is a particular case in point, as the 
rest of the quarter was until 1998 very neglected and in a 
squalid condition. Similarly the Husn Palace in Abu 
Dhabi and Shaykh Sa'ld Al Maktum's house in Dubai 
(both by Makiya) stand as restored and renovated ver- 
nacular edifices quite estranged from the surrounding 
urban fabric. In the case of the latter, Shaykh Sa'ld Al 
Maktum's house, the whole quarter of al Shandaghah was 

A special issue of the Architectural Review 11 was 
dedicated to the UAE in 1977. In their introduction the 
editors, Sherban Cantacuzino and Kenneth Brown, 
identified two problems: firstly how seriously under- 
populated the UAE was at the start of the oil boom (and 
still is considering the low ratio of national to expatriate 
population), and secondly the 'more fundamental and 
widespread ... problem of wealth'. They added, albeit 

presumptuously or apologetically, that 'Despite the great 
ancient cultures of the Middle and Far East, today none 
of the countries which belong to those cultures can, when 
under the pressures of development, proceed on any but 
Western models, for the simple reason that only the West 
has so far experienced the process of industrialization'. 
The implication of this was clear in that the Western 
package and mode of urban development was a ready- to- 
export commodity that entailed less responsibility for 
cultural research, since a model (irrespective of how 
appropriate it was) already existed. This attitude was 
the product of a Capitalist ethos that has dominated 
architecture, where 'wealth has become synonymous 
with industrialization' and has found its expression in 
consumer culture and junk architecture. 12 The Middle 
East and East in general were not compelled to import 
the Western mode of urban planning in the 1960s and the 
1970s because of a cultural vacuum or a lack of resource, 
but rather out of a preconceived economic mode of 
operation dominated by the international market. 

In 1982, Iraqi architect Rifaat Chadirji addressed 
the impasse that international architecture had reached 
in a paper he delivered at the Royal Institute of British 
Architects (RIBA) in London by saying: 'Since World 
War II, billions of pounds have been poured into the 
construction industry in the Middle East ... the end 
result is embarrassing and frustrating, economically 
disappointing and culturally a fiasco.' 13 

A change of heart set in nearly two decades later 
when, in the opening Comment of the March 1998 issue 
of the Architectural Review, on the Middle East, 14 the 
editor acknowledged that Western systems, promoted in 
the architecture and planning of the Middle East, have 
nurtured unfavourable results in the ecosystem. We are 
reminded that 'The glass towers and motorways of the 
West are ridiculously polluting and energy wasting in 
temperate climates. Pasted into hot, humid, desert and 
violently fluctuating climates, they become much worse. 
It is completely absurd, for instance, that in places 
blessed with abundant ambient energy from sun and 
wind, buildings seem designed to use almost as much 
irreplaceable and polluting fossil fuel as they can, partly 
to show how progressive and thrusting they are, and 



partly because in many places the stuff comes up out of 
the very earth . . . ' This was a cry of consideration from 
the propagators of the same system that zealously 
encouraged exploiting the very oil wealth of the Gulf 
states and was attracted to seizing the possibilities and 
opportunities it offered professional Western practices. 

Earlier in the article, the complex architectural 
fabric of Middle Eastern cities is described almost 
regretfully as having been 'intimately mixed in a highly 
sophisticated and tight spatial matrix which worked 
extraordinary well ... Integrated, delicate and coherent 
hierarchies of form and space, monumentality and the 
quotidian resulted.' These relationships along with the 
urban fabric, the editor continues, 'have largely been 
destroyed - blown apart by the Modern Movement . . . 
Whereas in the West the Movement's obsession with 
detached structures was bad enough, in the Middle East 
it was disastrous. Once the complex coherence was 
eroded, each building could speak (or rather shout) for 
itself: indeed it is almost necessary in modern capitalist 
societies for it to do so. The languages [we are reminded] 
in which those buildings shriek at us and each other are 
primitive and almost gibberish.' Invariably, and across 
the contemporary, lush oasis covering the larger part of 
Abu Dhabi Island's sands, the new developments and 
international ventures of the last few decades stand mute 
and somewhat indifferent to their surroundings. 15 

Similarly, braving a walk along the wide open 
boulevards of the new cities of Dubai or Abu Dhabi 
simply reinforces a hollow fact: there is no language. The 
buildings can hardly communicate with their own intern- 
al space, making it impossible for them to communicate 
with those who use them or their surrounding environ- 
ment. They stand instead akin to foreign casualties, 
a monument to innate matter. 'Despite the onset of a 
soulless international urban era, characterised by heavy 
construction methods using reinforced concrete and 
steel, built structures that suggest permanence and an 
imposing architecture which dominates the landscape, 
the qualities attached to the ways of life of both the Arab 
and the desert remain inherent.' As a response, perhaps 
as a silent attempt to counter this self-inflicted cultural 
aberration, 16 it is interesting to note that the Abu 

Dhabi-Dubai highway is posted at regular intervals with 
small and touching hand-made signposts on the grass 
verges in cursive Arabic script that read: 'Remember 

Contemplating this phenomenon one cannot but 
recall the Prophet's words: 

'The truest verse uttered by the Arabs is Labld's 
saying: Is not everything devoid of Allah untruef?]' 

Qashanl gives us the continuation of the verse, 
which is less commonly quoted: 'and every luxury [is] 
ephemeral'. 17 

Ibn al 'Arabl went further by identifying the 
meaning of space when he wrote, 'Places have an 
influence upon subtle hearts.' He illustrated his point 
further by drawing the description for a great dis- 
tinction between 'a city whose architecture is [made of] 
desires and a city whose architecture is clear [eloquent] 
revelations'. 18 

On the Western front, entertaining a Utopian 
vision could have turned the Gulf cities into interesting 
architectural places for design and innovation. 
Unfortunately, and but for a few names in the inter- 
national arena, TAC, Kenzo Tange, Aeroport de Paris, 
Arthur Erickson, Fitzroy Robinson, Carlos Ott, Leo 
Daly ... , this did not materialize. Hardly any interesting 
attempts have been advanced on the concept of the 
enclosing wall since the successful work of TAC (Library 
and Cultural Centre). 

The Western model has furthermore precipitated a 
skyline competition, where striving for ever taller towers 
has become an obsession. This was achieved irrespective 
of style or trend, in flashy commercial buildings. More 
recently, this quest for height became increasingly 
evident in the ascending minarets of grand state mosque 
projects. The latter became a common phenomenon 
throughout the Arab world, for example where the 
height of the minarets of the mosques of the Prophet's 
Holy Mosque at Madinah (new extension completed in 
1 994) had to be elevated in order to compete with that of 
the King Hasan II Mosque in Casablanca (completed in 
1993). More significant is that the construction of the 
minaret in the mosque is reduced to a mere symbolic 
function. The analogy between minarets and skyscrapers 



is important because it raises the very serious question as 
to whether there still remains a distinction between the 
principles and values applied to the design of spiritual 
places and those incorporated into commercial buildings. 
It is clear to see that neither the wealth of the archi- 
tectural heritage extant in the Islamic world, nor the 
gracefully ascending elegant Ottoman minarets were 
genuinely contemplated for design purposes. 

The other question related to height is why vertical 
expansion is necessary when the Emirates are still under- 
populated and land is available. Naturally, land and 
property speculation became the major determining 
factor. Furthermore, the city of Abu Dhabi is built 
on land reclaimed from the sea. There is essentially 
a reliance on contracting and engineering firms with 
inadequate professional backgrounds and experience in 
design, architecture or town planning, who have engaged 
in a lucrative and speculative enterprise which now 


Exploded aerial view of an entry in the Al Wahda Sports Centre Design 
Competition, Abu Dhabi. The podium, seen as a new landscape level or 
suspended park, provides access to the stadium as well as overall viewing of the 
sports centre activities. The stadium itself, rising out of the shifting ground 
plane and podium, allows for a variety of seating arrangements and flexibility 
of use due to the free-form characteristic of the design and layout 

dominates the building sector market entirely. National 
capital investment in construction resulted in funding a 
thriving commercial not architectural practice which 
institutionalized and harboured urban mediocrity. 

This nurtured that typically unmonitored form of 
construction that unmistakably manifests itself in the 
majority of cities. The recent deterioration that ensued 
in the buildings of the 1990s is illustrated in building 
fagades, where striking colours of reflective glass (pink, 


Site plan and enlarged floor plans; painting and model for a hotel/residential 
complex, Abu Dhabi. The project is located on a prime site in the centre of the 
capital. With Abu Dhabi organized on a grid the architects used this uniform 
structure as the basic design principle of the project. The grid appears flipped as 
a vertical plane (the slab of apartments and hotel rooms) which becomes the 
backdrop of the special hotel-related spaces such as conference rooms, 
restaurants and a health club. These are sculpted individually and suspended in 
the void where the slabs split apart. On the ground floor a three-storey beam 
cuts across the site and through the slab, accommodating the shopping mall and 
offices on top. Only above this beam, on the fourth floor is the hotel lobby 
which is accessible for vehicles via a curved ramp swooping from one corner of 
the site around the slab and into the vertical courtyard (the split). The entrance 
lobby at this level allows for a vista on the Gulf 




A rotation painting of Al Wahda Sports Centre, Abu Dhabi. The design 
re-interprets the sports centre as a large-scale landscape relief. The project is 
composed of the podium viewing park and its integration into the new ground 
plane and stadium. The new ground plane rises from the street level, surrounding 
the existing buildings, and slips under the podium, at which point all public 
access and circulation routes disperse to the various programme elements 

green and bronze) are used to clad the curtain walls of 
the proud steel-frame structures. 

However, interesting developments are taking place. 
Zaha Hadid was invited to design three projects for Abu 
Dhabi: al Wahda Sports Centre in 1988 (a sports complex 
including a main stadium accommodating 10-12,000 
spectators, indoor sports hall and ancillary facilities) 
followed by a hotel/residential complex, a mixed-use 
development including offices and shopping mall, in 1990, 
both projects on hold to date; and a design for the 
National Museum of al 'Ayn, 1988, which was similarly 
not carried through. More recently a design for the Abu 
Dhabi New Third Bridge Crossing project, 1997-99, was 
approved and is currently going ahead. The new bridge 
is part of the development and completion of the road 
system linking Abu Dhabi Island to the mainland. The 
location of the bridge, on the west side of the creek, is by 
the equestrian centre and marina. The opposite bank lies 
on the east of the creek mouth with the Maqta' bridge 
along the south creek shore. This will probably prove one 
of the most promising architectural projects in the capital 
to date, considering the general inertia brought on by the 
urban environment dominated by the solid vertical mass. 

On a very basic note, architects practising in Abu 
Dhabi tend to agree that the shortcomings of the city, 
in the absence of any architectural or philosophical 
polemic, are characterized by the fact that the town plan 
of Abu Dhabi has no axis or nucleus for its orientation. 
Subsequently, there is no planning of quarters or zones 
or zoning to locate public and ministerial buildings. By 
the 1990s the buildings that were constructed as late as 
1976 and 1980 were already being pulled down and 
reconstructed, due to the inferior quality of building 
materials and the use of salty sea water in the cement 
mix. Parking spaces were not allocated in the town plan 
and no provisions for parking spaces were made. The 
broader polemic lies in working against nature in terms 
of building the city of Abu Dhabi on reclaimed land, 
with a water table of 1.5-2 metres below sea level. The 
corniche of Abu Dhabi has turned into a concrete 
wall of buildings on the sea front, thus obstructing 
ventilation for the rest of the town and cutting it off 
from the openness of the sea. 

Building still represents a major economic invest- 
ment of the country's revenue locally and is used as an 
incentive to encourage capital investment. This may also 
explain the avid reconstruction spree that has set in since 
1990 after the Gulf War while the search for a cultural 
identity after the oil era still continues. An understanding 
of how the system works may be useful. 


Abu Dhabi 

HH Shaykh Khalifah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan believed in the necessity of securing the means 

of welfare and social justice for the people, to compensate them for the years of past hardship 

they withstood with patience exercised without despair, and defiance that never faltered in 

difficulties . . . He enlisted Arab skills and expertise which have contributed, and still 

contribute, to this monument of civilisation . . . realised on the 

Emirates soil. (The Khalifah Committee) 

Abu Dhabi has a unique social system which was set 
k up to administer the investment, funding and 
construction of building projects by advancing loans on 
behalf of its citizens, and effectively funding building 
projects in the commercial sector of the city. In other 
words, national capital is channelled to finance each 
building project in order to facilitate the ownership of 
property by its citizens. 

The Department of Social Services and 
Commercial Buildings (DSSCB), which originated 
as The Khalifah Committee, was set up by HH Shaykh 
Khalifah Bin Zayed when he was the Crown Prince. 19 
It was set up in 1981 to act as the main professional 
national institution appointed to oversee and approve 
commercial and residential building projects in Abu 
Dhabi. 20 The role it plays in the development of the 
urban sector can hardly be overemphasized. It is essential 
therefore to examine the procedures and directives of 
this organization in order to understand the factors 
affecting the construction of the city of Abu Dhabi in 

Each commercial building project is financed by the 
Department, on the Government's behalf, by granting 
every national owner a loan. The high-rise buildings, 
identified as 'commercial' projects or buildings, include 
two floors for commercial use, while the rest of the floors 
are rented out as residential flats. 

Preliminary approval for the building is given by 
the Diwan of Shaykh Khalifah to grant the loan for the 
specific project. This makes the Department the overall 
vital and essential body in terms of approving the building 
finance, construction activity and the nature of projects 
implemented, including the details and specifications of 
the building, through to the completion and letting of 
the building floors on behalf of the client. Therefore 95 
per cent of Abu Dhabi's buildings are legally owned by 
the Department, since it functions as the finance channel 
for the projects, serving as the link between the funding 
source (the Diwan of Shaykh Khalifah), the client or 
proprietor, the consultant/architects and the contractor. 

Once the prehminary approval for the building loan 
is granted by the Diwan, a consultant is appointed with 
the approval of the client (owner) from a list of 400 
consultants registered in the country. 'Consultants' 
represent the private offices of architects and structural 
engineers. Alternatively the client can select the con- 
sulting office whereby the Technical Section of the 
DSSCB then commissions and appoints the consultant. 
The consultant then submits the required work schedule 
and programme, in order to secure the basic finances, for 
the approval of all departments concerned (within the 
DSSCB). The consulting office will then prepare the 
preliminary design. This is put forward to the Technical 
Section for approval so that the consultant can then 



proceed to the detailed design stage. The client would 
be involved at this stage by specifying his requirements 
to the consultant. In cases where the client does not have 
enough expertise, consultants work with the Technical 
Section on the design and building finishes to enable the 
Technical Section to control costs on the loan to be paid. 
Building drawings have to comply with the bye-laws 
provided by the Department of Town Planning and with 
any restrictions on the design and structure, for example 
safety, heights, fagades, openings, access and infra- 

Once this phase is completed by the consultants, the 
drawings and project file are submitted to the Design 
Review Section to be checked for approval. This section 
is formed from a pool of some 34 engineers and three to 
four architects whose job is to check the drawings for the 
safety of the structure and compliance with the bye-laws. 
This stage is followed by putting the building for 
tender through public (newspaper) announcement. This 
process, from going out to tender until contractors 
submit their study proposals, takes a month and a half. 

The tenders are then transferred to the Technical 
Section to review the cost analysis and specifications 
submitted by each contractor. Following the Technical 
Section's recommendations the tenders are referred 
to the Awarding Committee. This Committee, a higher 
body including the Chairman and Under Secretary, 
meets on a twice-weekly basis to open the tenders. 
Decisions for awarding the tender are normally based on 
the contractor fulfilling general project criteria related to 
the quality, costing and delivery of work. Generally, and 
once these conditions are fulfilled, the lowest bidder is 
awarded the contract. Once the Committee has decided 
to whom they will award the job, the Committee 
members write to the Shaykh Khalifah Diwan to arrange 
for the finance. The Diwan normally finances the 
complete job; however, in some rare cases, according to 
a local architect, 'they may grant say 50 million and ask 
the owner to come up with say 20 million'. 

The agreement between the contractor and the 
DSSCB is carried out through the Legal Section. A 
mortgage deed is forged between the owner/client and 
the DSSCB. A letter of job commencement is then 

issued to the contractor on the second day after the 
mortgage deed has been signed. 

The average duration of this procedure is six months 
up to the tender stage, six weeks for the study of the 
tender submitted by contractors, two weeks for analysis 
of the tenders submitted and for awarding the job. The 
Diwan's response can take from one to six months, since 
the approval of each project is subject to the signature of 
endorsement of Shaykh Khalifah in person. 

The procedure thereafter involves the contractors 
commencing the work with the supervision of the archi- 
tects/consultants. Engineers from the Technical Section 
check the execution, quality of work and schedule of 
payments submitted to contractors, which are referred to 
the Abu Dhabi Financial Department (that is responsible 
for all Governmental money in Abu Dhabi) to initiate 

Once the building is finished, a Committee of 
Engineers is appointed to check, report any observations 
or comments and take over the completed project. The 
keys to flats, shops and offices are then handed by the 
contractor to the Technical Section. These are then 
referred to the Leasing Section with details of the build- 
ing description (number of shops, facilities, amenities, 
flat details, services, air-conditioning etc.). A committee 
from the Leasing Section fixes rents and generally 
allocates building spaces to existing rental requests, 
managing the administrative and financial aspects of the 
building. The Technical Section remains in control of 
the building for a period of one year after completion, 
considered a 'maintenance supervision' period, after 
which the final settlement of 5 per cent is made to 
the contractors. On final settlement, engineers from 
the Technical Section go out to check the building 
maintenance. At this point the responsibility of the 
building is released from the Technical Section and 
transferred to the Maintenance Section of the DSSCB. 

The repayment of the loan by the client is secured 
through the rents and commercial returns of the build- 
ing, which could take up to six or seven years. (Precise 
information on the nature and duration of the loan 
repayment would have to be obtained from the Financial 
Section of the DSSCB.) Distribution of the building's 



revenue runs according to a percentage allocation 
quoted 21 as follows: 

The national landlord is given 30% of the 
building's revenue if it is an apartment block, and 
40% if it is a villa structure. 60% of an apartment 
block's revenue, or 50% of a villa's revenue is 
apportioned for bond repayment. It must be 
noted that the bonds are interest-free. 22 

The objectives and philosophy of the project for 
setting up the DSSCB are also highlighted in the above 
quoted document, along with the essential statistics 
for the number of residential and commercial projects 
listing the Department's achievement, with the value cost 
of those projects, as it evolved between 1981 and 1995. 

The impact of modern architecture was discussed in 
January 1996 along with the development phenomenon 
that marks the urban planning of Abu Dhabi. This is 
based upon a continuous planning process that com- 
menced in the late 1960s. The comprehensive master 
plan for Abu Dhabi, and a regional plan for the UAE, 
enabled the master plan for al Ayn to be consolidated 

within the latter. The idea to tie in al Ayn in an integral 
plan with Abu Dhabi had been suggested at an earlier 
stage. However, this was abandoned in favour of two 
separate master plans. The role of British planning 
companies in the late 1960s was mentioned. 

The Architectural Section of the Abu Dhabi 
Municipality and Town Planning Department is respon- 
sible for setting the criteria for consultants to determine 
the form of buildings and fagade designs and instill or 
incorporate Arab/Islamic architectural influences into 
the modern building designs. This particular requisite 
is the responsibility of the Heritage Section of the 
Municipality. Despite several visits and requests, informa- 
tion was not forthcoming on the nature of directions in 
the housing and town planning schemes and procedures, 
the role of the architectural heritage and influences 
of Islamic features that the town plan of Abu Dhabi 
recommends. 23 


Panoramic view of a segment of Abu Dhabi's skyline from the Baynunah 
Hilton's tower, showing the line of new buildings constructed in the last decade 
along the corniche front. In the foreground is the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque, 
behind which Is the meat, fish and vegetable market 



Top and left 

Al Omairah ('Umayrah) Residence, in al Butayn residential quarter: details from 
the entrance and part of the exterior wall forming a screen outside the main 
living area (Arkan Architects and Consultants, Abu Dhabi, 1985) 


Close-up of the sea- facing facade of the Meridien Hotel, Abu Dhabi 



The city of Al 'Ayn 

We order all specialised parties in the departments of the Municipalities and town planning 

and works to ensure that the designs of public, private and service buildings, whether 

carried out by your institutions or commissioned to consultants, reflect the Arab/Islamic 

architectural style and the historic civilisation of the region. No building permit should be 

issued unless the building qualifies in this style. (Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan) 

The city of al 'Ayn, in the eastern province of Abu 
Dhabi, is considered one of the oldest in the 
Emirates, with a historic urban heritage and rich culti- 
vated land within its urban fabric due to the lush 'Ayn 
Oasis. There are 64 public gardens in al Ayn. The oasis 
has the largest supply of underground water in the 
Emirates. In 1977 this was reported as sufficient to 
irrigate an area of 30,350 hectares. 24 Al Ayn was the 
previous seat of Shaykh Zayed who was governor of the 
eastern province from 1 946 until he took over from his 
brother Shaykh Shakhbout in 1966. 

Al Ayn contains a number of interesting traditional 
forts, and amongst the finest vernacular architecture 
constructed in mud brick, most prominent of which is al 
Jahily fort. 25 The oasis, however, with its lush date gardens, 
remains the most impressive landmark of the city. 

The new development project of the al Ayn Oasis 
proved one of the most interesting projects undertaken 
by the Municipality in understanding the urban morph- 
ology of the city. The oasis is composed of date 
palm groves that have been separately walled in by brick 
surs, with narrow winding paved streets shaded by the 
towering trees. The tangible planning qualities achieved 
here amount to an abstract representation of the lost 
Arab city. The pleasant climatic and ecological con- 
ditions of such an extraordinary environment, to which 

traditionally the inhabitants of al 'Ayn resorted in the 
hot summer season, may be drawn as a model not only 
for landscape design but, on the complex conceptual and 
organizational level, for consolidation in urban plan- 
ning. The walled natural gardens of palm trees appear 
aesthetically and climatically blissful, and in marked 
contrast to the over-constructed urban centre occupied 
by towering steel-and-concrete frame buildings. 

The composition of the architectural landscape 
serves as a substantial reflection upon the organic 
and natural elements, which every urban environment 
deserves to contain. As an integral entity, it pays respect 
to elements of proportion and the human scale, as 
creatively achieved in the planning concepts of this 
interesting development. This clearly includes the 
nuances of closed and open spaces within the plan while 
the fabric of the enclosed oasis, existing on the edge of 
the city's urban centre, remains so well secluded on the 
exterior and generously revealing on the interior. Several 
mosques off the main streets have been preserved, and 
one local cafe has been constructed in the traditional 
'arish palm fronds in the main square. A single car 
may travel into the shaded empty lanes comfortably. 
The original housing of al Ayn developed in mud 
brick and l arlsh around the oasis, while the forts and hum, 
constructed out of mud brick, were inhabited by the 



shaykhs. It is interesting to note that land in al 'Ayn, 
whether intended for construction or cultivation use, 
is free. The Municipality performs an effective role as 
the practical local authority involved in and attending 
to the direct needs and requirements arising from the 
relationship of the inhabitants with their city. 

In 1988 the Committee for the Preservation of 
the Arab Islamic Architectural Style was formed. The 
responsibility assumed by this committee covers study- 
ing each building proposal separately to evaluate its 
functional and aesthetic aspects with reference to 
Arab/Islamic values and concepts of architectural design. 
The committee's approval is necessary prior to approval 
of the architectural drawings. 26 

The experience with the ongoing planning process 
which this necessitated highlighted the disadvantages of 
the speed with which such planning is executed. The 
analysis and critical awareness of such shortcomings, as 
far as this writer is concerned at least, indicate a positive 
attitude in the understanding of the urban fabric 
development and the sensitive issues related to it on a 
multi-disciplinary level. The system of 'consultant' 
practices which operate and effectively control the 
architectural projects 'market', while not necessarily 
possessing design competence, has had considerable 
impact on the quality of 'modern' architecture. A 
comprehensive master plan for the region of al Ayn was 
drawn up in 1985 and updated in 1996. 27 

Development budgets and projects are allocated by 
the Executive Councils representing the Government 
of each Emirate. Al Ayn is part of the eastern region of 
the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, ruled by Shaykh Khalifah 
through his representative Shaykh Tahnun, and governed 
from Abu Dhabi, with an Executive Council chaired by 
Crown Prince Shaykh Mohamed. Al Ayn Municipality 
has its own administrative structure, boundaries and 
responsibilities, but the Council allocates the develop- 
ment budgets, along with those for Abu Dhabi itself 
and for the western region (Llwa, Bida' Zayid and the 
adjacent areas), these being the three principal regions of 
the Emirate. However, the Municipality has the freedom 
to initiate the projects and submit them for review and 
approval by the Council. Although the Municipality does 

not actually cooperate with Abu Dhabi on any projects, 
the joint implementation of certain special projects takes 
place at the request of HH the Ruler Shaykh Khalifah: 
for example, the levelling of a desert area to construct a 
housing complex. The Abu Dhabi municipality may not 
have the financial and technical capacity to implement 
the project alone, so the heavy equipment and manpower 
may be provided by the Municipality of al Ayn, even 
though it is outside the eastern region. 

Al Ayn is also home to the University of the UAE, 
until recently the only university in the country. (In 
1997 the American University of Sharjah was opened.) 
The role of the University in architectural education is 
rather lacking in terms of design and urban planning. 
The courses on offer are oriented towards structural 
engineering. This will ultimately need to be rectified to 
suit the direction and influence which a professional 
training should have on forming future generations of 
local architects, who need to be aware of the complex 
issues related to the development of architecture 
on both the international and national level, and the 
integral role that architecture plays in the urban fabric 
and renewal. This will not be an easy task, since the 
University is only at the early stages of acquiring 
a national base in terms of the curriculum and the 
specialized teaching board. 

A recently completed project was the impressive 
building of the Faculty of Medicine at the university. The 
design is seen to embody modern 'Islamic' features in the 
building by incorporating various elements used in the 
fagade along with the design of a series of courtyards in 
the layout. 28 


Top left 

Faculty of Medicine, al 'Ayn University (Perkins and Will International, 


Bottom left 

View of one of the courtyards attached to the main building, 
Faculty of Medicine, al 'Ayn University 

Top right 

Faculty of Medicine, al 'Ayn University 

Bottom right 

View from the library overlooking the courtyard and dome of the mosque, 
Faculty of Medicine, al 'Ayn University 





Above left 

The mosque seen from the mihrab, 
encased in blue ceramic tiles, 
Faculty of Medicine, al 'Ayn 

Above right and left 

Detail showing the cast-iron grilles 
used to cover the openings 
throughout the building, looking 
over to the Faculty buildings and 
courtyard of the main block 



Liwa Oasis 

Situated north of the Empty Quarter, Liwa is the 
original dwelling of the desert Arabs of this region, 
and the stronghold of the Banl Yas tribe (one of the 
largest and most influential tribes of the Emirates), who 
settled there in the seventeenth century. Llwa's urban- 
ization has transformed the original nomadic community 
of the oasis into settlers, and engaged them in farming 
activities (providing a surplus of produce that is 
subsidized by the Government and redistributed). The 
housing projects that contributed to this process are 
known as 'popular' (sha'biyyah), although they are actually 
villa-type housing of a high standard. This housing is 
found in several locations, forming streets of typical villas 
with high retaining walls enclosing front courtyards. The 
remaining unpaved sandy streets connect these housing 
sites, now inhabited by Arabs (the Bedii), to their previous 
abode in the sands. Some magnificent expanses of 
sand still exist in al Batnah desert, with cultivation 
encroaching in areas that have been levelled and drip 
irrigated for the purpose of planting vegetables. The 
oasis is quite lush, and main city streets are lined with 
trees and flowers in the middle and on either side of the 
carriageway. The previous Bedouin settlements in the 
sands consisted of 'arish-type structures, which have been 
kept to house the camels and sheep, and more recent 
corrugated and tin-panelled housing, currently used for 
storage by the original owners who are now settled in 
the housing projects. Both the socio-economic and 
environmental transformations that have taken place are 
remarkable ones considering the brief time span in which 
these changes have occurred. It was only relatively 
recently that the Bedu moved to their new housing 
schemes. The function of the tent as the sole form of 
shelter has been abandoned, and the tent now exists as a 
complementary extension to the new concrete housing, 
where this traditional lightweight structure is set up in 
the forecourts adjacent to or outside the walled villas, and 
used for traditional entertainment and living and for 
keeping tame falcons. 


Exterior and interior views of a traditional inhabited tent, in Liwa, located close 
to the popular housing area 



Llwa Oasis has 1 5 forts in total, only three of which 
were visited, including Qal'at Husn al Zufayr and Husn al 

On our visit to Llwa in 1996 we met with Salim 
Hamdan alMansurl, who accompanied us. He explained 
that he lived in Sahra' al Qarmadah, the Qarmadah 

Top left 

The 'arish type of dwelling used for 
shelter at a camel farm in the Llwa 
desert. No longer used as housing, 
these dwellings serve as resting 
houses and accommodation for the 
keepers and camel guardians 


One ofLiwd's renovated forts, 
Hum al Qatuf with Salim Hamdan 
al Mansurl in the foreground 


Entrance to Husn al Qatuf Llwa 

desert, up until 1 992 when the whole tribe moved to the 
new housing built for them. All the Arabs have left the 
desert and live in the sha'biyyah now. The street they live 
on is called after the name of the desert they dwelt in, al 
Sha'biyyah al Qarmadah. Each of their villas has three 
rooms, and a majlis. In the forecourt the majority have 
constructed tents, where they keep their precious falcons. 
The tent, he added, provided warmth during the cold 
evenings since they could light fires inside: 'People who 
come from afar tell us we shouldn't light a fire inside the 
houses; however, we have to light a fire so we do outside 
in the tent, not only in order to keep warm but also to 
create light in the tent, and to recall the early days.' 



One of the villas in the al Sha'biyyah al Qarmadah area in Liwa. Tents are 
constructed by the inhabitants immediately outside the premises on the unpaved 


The tent and a detail of the structure built outside Salim al Mansuri's villa in 
Sahra' al Qarmadah at Liwa. The falcons are kept in the tent. Salim sits with 
his son to his left and boys from the neighbourhood to his right 

Their previous tents were actually made out of 
l arlsh, palm fronds which had extensions of corrugated 
iron sheds for the animals. They have kept these in the 
desert, where they attend to their camels and livestock 
(sheep and hens). 

When asked if they were comfortable in the new 
houses, his response echoed all the Bedu of the area we 
had met, who had a genuine affection for Shaykh Zayed, 
and referred to him by his first name: 'We are, thanks to 
Allah, comfortable just with food and water. In the past 
we had a harsh desert existence in the interior. And he 
[Zayed] , by Allah, has spared nothing and no one, the 
houses abound, the farms abound and money abounds.' 
We were invited to have coffee with Salim and his tribe, 
and went to his house where we were received in the 
tent. Coffee and the tray of fruits were served, however, 
on the sand outside the villa wall, effectively out on the 




A villa on the edge of the desert in the urbanized part ofLiwa, where it is still a 
tradition to have coffee and fruit outside the premises, sitting on the sand 


A street showing the low-cost villa housing in al Qarmadah at Liwd. The road 
then extends freely to join the desert sands 

Bottom left 

Some tents are put up inside the villa compound, opening to the house garden 
and front yard 



Review of projects 

Abu Dhabi 

Armed Forces Officers' Club and 
Conference Centre 

RogerTaillibert (Pans, 1997) 

HH Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan identified 
the need for such a complex in order to provide 
comfortable, and what became outstanding, facilities for 
members of the armed forces. Subsequently, a competition 
was held under the auspices of HH Crown Prince of Abu 
Dhabi Shaykh Khalifah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan (Deputy 
Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces), and 
supervised by HH Lieutenant Colonel Staff Pilot Shaykh 
Muhammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. 

Roger Taillibert's project was selected and the 
design process was completed during the course of 

1985-6. Construction of the main Club building 
commenced in 1987. Ten years later the Club and 
accommodation buildings complex were complete. A 
project summary was submitted to the Aga Khan Award 
for Islamic Architecture 1 995 cycle. 

Covering 75 hectares of reclaimed land, the site 
occupies the south-east corner of Abu Dhabi Island. 
It is located 12 kilometres from the city centre and 15 
kilometres from Abu Dhabi's international airport. The 
Arabian Gulf creates favourable south and south-east 
borders for the site, while to the north the main cause- 
way links to al Musaffah Bridge, running east of the 


Aerial view of the Armed Forces Officers' Club and Conference Centre in Abu 
Dhabi. The shell structure, set against the Arabian Gulf, shows the north-facing 
entrance in the foreground and the accommodation wings to the south 
surrounding the garden 



island joining the main route south towards al 'Ayn 
and Dubai. Apart from being an appropriately secluded 
location that belonged to the Ministry of Defence, the 
choice of site was also determined by its proximity to the 
army's general headquarters. 

Seldom does a site for a project prove so perfectly 
abstract and flat, unhindered visually or physically by 
any urban development. Bordered on the north and 
west by the quiet vastness of the desert, it also has 
the shore of the Gulf winding round its southern and 
eastern perimeters. 

Despite the impressively high-tech appearance 
of the structure, the master plan and design scheme 
entertained the form, and function, encountered in the 
architectural environment of the Arab desert and towns. 
This attempt remains within the confines of modern 
architectural expression, and unfortunately the sophisti- 
cated concepts or nuances inherent within the historic 
urban or temporary settlements have not been addressed. 
The relationship between the exterior and interior and 
the quality of movement within the enclosure of the 
building's spaces has been compared by the architects to 
the movement of the Bedouin crossing the sands to the 
oasis. It became one of the guiding design concepts that 
the master plan and floor layout should resemble a tent 
in structure. 

The architect highlights the 'poetics' inherent in 
Islam, the Arabs and the desert. 29 The dramatic landscape 
and cultural history have tempted every orientalist to 
flirt with the power and fascination of the terrain, nature 
and people of Arabia. But here it is strong light that 
is celebrated instead; the same light that Arabs have 
intentionally obscured and skilfully diffused in the 
planning of city streets and interiors of buildings. The 
ideas of landscape and architecture are organically 
merged where they have traditionally been separated, 
and the walls provide an enclosure to a refined con- 
structed exterior, in contrast to the Islamic concept of 
architecture which separates the space of the designed 
interior from the exterior. Despite the romantic 
orientalist rhetoric, the use of geodesic and lightweight 
structures is part of a lineage of modernist Western 
tensile-structure design, as advocated by Buckminster 

Fuller and Frei Otto, Skidmore, Owen and Merrill 
(SOM) and more recently the works of Hopkins, Piano 
and FTL. 

Considering the circumstances, it is beyond dispute 
that the site is a dream to any architect. Ultimately, how- 
ever, the challenge was in designing and constructing 
a state-of-the-art building that lay upon the sands as 
opposed to producing a structure that could challenge 
the sands. 

The main Club building is roofed with three wide- 
span, prestressed-concrete shells, resting on an external 
abutment, covering a total area of 23,500 square metres, 
without any intermediate support. Each of the two 
triangular lateral shells covers an area of 9,000 square 
metres, with a span of 150 metres. The thickness of the 
shell membrane is between 20 and 35 centimetres, 
increasing to a metre at the abutments. The weight of 
the shells is approximately 9,000 tonnes. The central 
shell, which covers an area of 5,500 square metres, has a 
trapezoidal shape. 

The technical challenge faced by the architects was 
to create, in their own words, a 'modern tent' of some 
2 5 ,000 square metres - without any visible support - thus 
creating a contemporary monument. 

The extensive project suggested an all-encompassing, 
trifold-vault design. Inspired by the concept of the tent 
as a lightweight structure of the desert, the architect 
intended the design to form a link between centuries of 
traditional life in the vast desert of the Arabian peninsula 
and the expectations of modern urban society. The 
experience of wide-span structural techniques (similar to 
those used by the architect in designing the Olympic 
Complex in Montreal) made it possible to achieve the 



Far left 

Interior view showing the interplay 
of levels in the design of the 
circulation of linking staircases in 
the foreground and free-standing 
lift shafts in the background 
against the skylight of the central 
spherical vault 


Interior garden of the western 
accommodation wing 


Close-up of the structural shell 
showing the central and west vaults 
of the Club complex 


Section through the vaulted shells 
encompassing the Club complex 
showing the main north entrance 
and different levels with the 
connecting galleries to the east and 
west accommodation wings 



large spanning 'tent' structure. Covering 25,000 square 
metres, it is supported at six points around the perimeter, 
each bearing around 10,000 tonnes of vertical force. 
Three shells make up the roof, two triangular and one 
elliptical, with a total span of 265 metres. The structure is 
made of steel, concrete and glass. 

A double causeway, separated by flower beds and 
fountains on either side of it, leads to the main Club 
house building which comprises one axial and two lateral 
wide-span, prestressed-concrete shells. 

The accommodation under the shells is organized 
on five levels: the basement contains technical and 
service spaces which include sub-stations, air treatment 
plant rooms and kitchens; level one, the ground floor, 
provides sports facilities and gardens; level two, the first 
floor, is for administration and management, business 
and cultural activities, and includes a restaurant and 
leisure facilities; level three is for VIPs; and on level four 
is the circulation gallery. 

The accommodation is divided between the eastern 
and western wings, which are symmetrical in plan, 
wrapping around the garden space of the inner plaza. 
It is connected by an inner walkway on each of its four 
levels. The two passages follow the garden space of the 
inner plaza, thus avoiding the necessity for anyone to go 
outside in the heat, while ensuring the privacy of the two 
wings. Separate entrances link the main club building 
and facilities through vaulted galleries, like pedestrian 
streets, to the two curvilinear buildings each accommo- 
dating 350 units of varying types. 30 


Southern Club entrance at ground level showing the steel and glass curtain wall 
joining the structural shell with the skylight slits. The area encloses fountains 
and gardens, and the steel-clad mushroom-shaped structures serve as air- 
conditioning ducts throughout the building 


North-facing elevation of the Club's main entrance with driveway approach 




Segment of the shell and glass wall joining the structural shell with the skylight 


One of the round sliding doors (opaque glass panels and steel frame) showing 
the marble cladding of the walls of the VIP western lounge 


Seating on the terrace of the third floor beneath the skylight of the central vault 
with two air-conditioning steel-clad mushroom-shaped structures on either side 



Baynunah Tower 

Arkan Architects and Consultants (Abu Dhabi, 1 995) 

The various functional components of the Baynunah 
Tower have been incorporated into a cluster 
of three towers all encapsulated by a deep blue tinted 
reflective-glass curtain wall. Towering high above the 
Abu Dhabi skyline, the towers are complemented by 
ornamental clad white cylindrical shafts on the fagade. 
Interiors have been elaborately designed in a modern 
Arabesque style, utilizing quality materials and finishes. 

According to the architects, 'contemporary archi- 
tectural thought, attention to detail and the quality of 
workmanship epitomizes the Baynunah Tower, creating 
the focal point of a high level of achievement and 
confidence in the progress of the UAE and the capital 
city of Abu Dhabi.' The three principal blocks rise to 
heights of 24, 30 and 36 storeys above ground-floor 
level. They cluster round a central cylinder shaft which 
extends to a height of 160 metres. 

The residential apartment entrance hall, located on 
the ground level, features 24-hour security and a large 
reception area in an elegantly designed interior. The 
accommodation provided in the Baynunah Residential 
Apartments is luxurious. Located on levels 11 to 35, the 
apartments are designed to high international standards 
to provide maximum efficiency per square metre of 
floorspace. Annexed to the main body of the Baynunah 
Tower is a five-storey block which houses the hotel 
reception, general facilities and catering services. 

Stained glass casts sunlight in different colours 
onto the polished marble tiles which fan out in geometric 
patterns throughout the high-ceilinged entrance hall and 
into the reception lounge, the lifts lobby and the five 
high-speed lifts to all 35 floors. Two glass lifts with 
panoramic views transport hotel guests to four levels 
of suites, the spaces of which impart a preview of the 
pristine urban surrounds. 


The Baynunah Tower and external details of the building showing the 
cylindrical towers clad in white geometric tile panels, with a repeat pattern 
based on the eight-pointed star. A brass grille in the same pattern provides 
filtered lighting. The entire building facade is encased in deep blue reflective 
glass. A subtle interpretation of the Islamic squinch forms an interesting 
movement, breaking the surface of the corner edge 



Control rooms on either side of the hall monitor 
the utilities of Baynunah Tower, including centrally 
controlled lighting, air-conditioning, power supply, 
fire protection, satellite communication system, CCTV 
security system and a building management system. 

Leisure facilities are located on level 29, including a 
large L-shaped swimming pool, health club and coffee 
shop, all with a panoramic view of the city. 

The total built area is 45,000 square metres, the 
total cost 3 8 million pounds sterling. 


Detail of the stained-glass tiles in the vaulted ceiling of the entrance area. 
The openings in the wooden panelled wall are of the cafe at the mezzanine 

Above left 

View of the marble-clad corridor leading to the residential apartments on 
the twelfth floor. The lifts on either side have mirror-panelled doors 


Entrance foyer, showing the marble floor and mashrabiyyah screens of the 
fust floor cafe and lounge 



Baynunah Tower 

North elevation 



Ground floor 



First floor 




Fifth floor of the Hotel and seventh 
floor of the Tower 


Twenty-fifth floor of the 
Hotel and twenty-seventh 
floor of the Tower 


Twenty-ninth floor of the Tower 



Ministry of Finance and Industry 

JoforTukon Partners (Jordan, I 983) 

The Ministry was designed in 1976 by Jafar Tukan 
Partners who have carried out several projects, 
including private residential, commercial, educational, 
mosques and Government buildings, in Dubai and Abu 

The modest and formal lines of the Ministry of 
Finance and Industry distinguish the building as a sober 
but attractive structure amidst the urban variety of 
exuberant expression. The building is composed of two 
adjoining L-shaped blocks; the larger eleven-storey 
block houses staff offices and the smaller six-storey block 
accommodates formal activities and is built around an 
atrium of variable cross sections which is open to all the 

Right and below 

Main facade and back elevation 




City Hall Complex 

Pacific Consultants International and Civic Design Studio 
(Tokyo, 1979) 

An international competition was held by Dubai 
k Municipality in 1974 for the design of the muni- 
cipal complex. Pacific Consultants International's scheme 
was selected and the design development was contracted 
to Civic Design Studio. The construction commenced 
in 1976 with the total cost of 12 million US dollars and 
covers a total floor area of 1 8,62 5 square metres on a site 
of 12,500 square metres. 32 

The design concept was, according to the archi- 
tects, evolved around uniting the functions of the council 
chamber, city hall and administrative office. This was 
accomplished in two blocks. The first is a seven-storey 
L-shaped building housing the Administrative Offices 
with the seventh floor extending horizontally in the air 
and squaring the mass. The extensions from each wing, 
termed 'flying corridors', are supported by free-standing 
pillars to the height of the six floors. This mass was 
rendered in fair-faced concrete with epoxy paint finish 
and aluminium curtain walls. The interior fagades of the 
office wings open onto a court and pool, reminiscent, to 
the architects, of an oasis. The second mass is contained 
within the parameters of the square and is composed 
from a quarter-sphere housing the City Hall and the 
Council Chamber that forms a 'curvilinear volume' 
extending towards the waterfront and above the pool 
with supporting columns. The Council Chamber is a 
reinforced-concrete shell with polished Brazilian granite 
cladding. The flying corridors were erected in steel truss, 
and a warren-truss space frame spans the roof canopy 
above the courtyard. The project was submitted to the 
Aga Khan Award for Islamic Architecture 1986 cycle. 

Top right 

View of the quarter-sphere housing the City Hall in the shaded foreground, with 
the flying corridor extending above 

Bottom right 

Detail of the warren-truss space frame spanning the roof canopy above the 




Part of the Council Chamber in the 
complex that forms a 'curvilinear 
volume' extending towards the 
waterfront and above the pool with 
supporting columns 


Longitudinal section 




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North-south sec 


First-floor plan 





Third-floor plan 


Seventh-floor plan 



Restoration of Shaykh Said House 

Makiya Associates (Dubai, 1986) 

In 1980 this abandoned building was surveyed and its 
reconstruction approved by the Al Maktum family. 
Situated in the Shandaghah district on the bank of the 
creek, the building occupies a site of 3 ,050 square metres 
and a total built floor area of 1,975 square metres. The 
total cost of the project was just under two million US 
dollars. The building was completed in 1986. The house 
is built on two floors around a central courtyard with two 
entrances. The majority of rooms open onto the central 
courtyard and are shaded by verandas. The outer fagades 
are punctuated by blind arches, forming niches and 
recesses as well as small openings for ventilation. Four 
windtowers contributed to the original ventilation of 
the house. According to the architects, 'the restoration 
works included the salvaging of reinforced concrete raft 
foundations, floors and structural frame, from the coral- 
stone walls. Walls are rendered externally and internally 
with a hand-applied soft farush plaster, made of local 
sand, lime and cement.' The project was submitted to the 
Aga Khan Award for Islamic Architecture 1995 cycle." 


Site plan 


Ground floor plan sections C-C 

Ground floor plan sections H-H 



Diwan of the Emir 

John R. Harris Architects (London, 1990) 

John R. Harris Architects were commissioned to design 
the Diwan of HH The Ruler of Dubai in 1984. The 
construction commenced in 1987 and the building was 
occupied in 1990. The site covered 117,300 square 
metres of which the ground floor covers 6,175 square 
metres. The total cost of the project was over 34 million 
US dollars. 

Clearly evoking the traditional style of domestic 
architecture in Dubai, and particularly reminiscent of 
the adjacent windtower housing of the al Bastakiyyah 
quarter, 'the building was designed to be in sympathy with 
the history of the area and to open a new Government 
Square to the creek and the old renovated Fahldl Fort, 
now a museum.' The Diwan is a low-rise building, with 
an impressively elegant low profile, in contrast to the 
forceful high-rise development that clutters the city. 
It was designed around two landscaped courtyards 
housing the main majlis of the Ruler with the traditional 
windtowers incorporated within the space, VIP suites 
overlooking the creek and conference facilities for 
summit-type meetings. The project was submitted to the 
Aga Khan Award for Islamic Architecture 1995 cycle. 34 

The practice of John R. Harris Architects has 
maintained an office in Dubai since 1958. It was 
involved in some of the earliest projects that included: 
the Survey and Development Plan Abu Dhabi in 1961; 
first Town Plan for the City of Dubai 1958 and the 
Review of the Development Plan in 1971; Al Maktum 
Hospital in 1958 and the Dubai Hospital in 1982; and 
the Itihad School, Dubai. Commercial projects include 
The Dubai Hilton Hotel, Dubai Metropolitan Hotel, 
National Bank of Dubai (1979), Abra Point, National 
Bank of Dubai HQ, the British Bank of the Middle East 
(1993) and the Dubai Trade Centre Tower. The last was 
constructed in 1975 with 39 storeys, and was described 
by A. E.J. Morris as 'becoming then the tallest building 
in the Arab World'. He explains that 'the first design had 
a pronounced horizontal emphasis which was converted, 
at the request of the client, the Ruler HH Shaykh 
Rashid bin Sa'ld Al Maktum, into the vertical form of 


View across the creek in Dubai showing the Bur (ban) Dubai district in the 
background with the Diwan of the Emir, bordered by windtowers. In the 
foreground is the district ofDayrah and the earlier urban development of the 


Aerial view of Dubai's winding creek and the high modern commercial buildings 
at the end of the Dayrah's creek shores 

the Arabian Gulf's first true skyscraper'.' 5 The qualities 
of being a true skyscraper and the tallest building have 
long since been in demise. 



National Bank of Dubai, 
Headquarters Building 

NORR Group Consultants International Ltd (Toronto and 
Dubai, 1 998); Design Architect: Carlos A. Ott 

Established in the Emirates since 1990, the NORR 
Group has been responsible for several institutional 
and commercial projects in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Most 
noted among those in the capital Abu Dhabi are the 
Forte Grand Hotel (1993), recently renamed as the Abu 
Dhabi Grand; the Union National Bank (1995); the Abu 
Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations Head- 
quarters (AD CO) (1998); and the Al-Muhairy Centre, 
with its office, residential and retail components (1998). 
In Dubai, however, two recently accomplished works 
stand out as being in an architectural league of their own. 
These are the headquarters of the National Bank of 
Dubai (design architect Carlos A. Ott), completed in 
1998, and the Emirates Towers. 

NORR Group's Dubai projects set the tone for 
serious architectural work, successfully merging high- 
quality design, materials and engineering technology in 
a predominantly minimalist and understated design. 
This is carried through in the execution of the elegant 
structures and fagades and in the consistently creative 
interplay between volume spaces. The use of building 
materials is faithfully mastered on the exteriors and 
interiors, paying tribute to a spartan monument of 
modern architecture, and masterful competence despite 
overall challenges and conceptualization is evident in the 
building finishes of the high-modern structures. NORR 
Group's projects represent a refreshing, long-awaited 
statement on the creative potential of design, and thus a 
departure from the prevailing architectural condition of 
the region. Slick, slender and subtle in interpretation, the 
result is an unexpected statement that contrasts with the 
dull urban surround of an ambitious cityscape. 

Over the past two decades, architects and con- 
sultants in the UAE have often complained either of the 
clients' preconditions, which they claim have influenced 
style taste - resulting in inferior architecture - or of the 
speed in which they and contractors have had to deliver. 
The result has been mediocre construction and a hybrid 

of ambiguous building styles endorsed by architecturally 
unqualified developers; this has led to the urban sprawl 
of new cities. The careless use of expensive materials and 



- -HrH-fr??*-4-± 


Building facade 

Opposite page 

Side view of the slender design of 
the National Bank of Dubai's creek 
facade showing the Inclination of 
the curtain wall arc 




the poor execution that mark the soaring towers and 
retail, residential and institutional precincts characterize 
the deteriorating condition of the profession. By way of 
contrast, the high-quality construction, architecture and 
design of the Emirates Towers (which qualified as a 
'fast track' project, with a time span of less than four 
years from preliminary design stage to completion) have 
created a precedent for the modification of the urban 
landscape by gradually reversing the 'junk-trend' con- 
dition and restoring the credibility of architecture in the 

This attractive twenty-storey building, situated on 
the Dubai Creek, has a stunning profile that is accentu- 
ated by the gentle curvature (similar to the arc of the six 
petals found in the natural division of the primary circle) 
which its curtain wall assumes. The reflective-glass 
screen which composes the creek fagade is the major 
focal point of the building. This does not undermine 
the design structure and architecture of the rest of the 
building, including the rear fagade and entrance to the 
bank headquarters and offices. 

NORR Group won the international competition 
held for the commissioning of this project with a design 
by Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott. 36 The design concept 
is based on the traditional dhow (daw) that sails Gulf 
waters. Situated on the creek, the design pays homage 
to the region's maritime trade. The curved roof of the 
banking hall (the hull) and the curved golden sheet of 
glass that makes up the fagade (the sail of the dhow) are 
the leading motifs of the design. 37 Construction began in 
1994 and was completed in mid- 1998. The building 
includes office space and facilities that are predominantly 
used by the bank, a few leased floors and underground 
staff parking. As in the Emirates Towers, solid lines, 
elegant stature and clean finishes dominate much of the 
overall structure and architecture. An attractive contrast 
between the arc movement of the creek fagade and the 
straight back defines the form as the fagades 'ascend', 
appearing to be supported by two slender, square, 
granite-clad blocks rising up on either side of the curtain 
wall. The design makes a distinct contribution to the 
creek's urban skyline. 


Profile of the National Bank of Dubai 


Street and back facade 




Close-up and detail of the side of 
the building from the ground, 
showing a segment of the creek 
curtain wall facade and the street 
curtain wall facade 

Top right 

Detail of the square mass at the 
corner of the National Bank of 
Dubai just below the arc curtain 


Close-up of the Bank's creek facade 
below the ascending arc wall 



Emirates Towers 

NORR Group Consultants International Ltd (Toronto and 
Dubai, 2000); Design Architect: Hazel W. S. Wong 

The Emirates Towers project was, according to 
the architects, envisioned as a major landmark and 
conceived as a symbol of Dubai's aspirations and change in 
status from being the Middle East's new commercial and 
trade centre to 'becoming an international contender in 
the business world, one to rival Southeast Asian com- 
mercial centres such as Singapore'. 38 This is enhanced by 
the city's geographical location as a link between the 
East, Far East and the Western World, a vision which the 
client, HH Shaykh Muhammad Bin Rashed Al Maktum 
(Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence), 
has consistently focused on in the shaping of Dubai's 
international role and future. 

A series of design competitions and re-submissions 
of proposals took place during the latter part of 1 994 and 
early 1995 for the creation of a 'world-class' mixed-use 
development. The scheme presented by NORR Group 
was selected in March 1995. Design development 
commenced in April 1996, with design architect Hazel 
W S. Wong, and construction began shortly afterwards, 
in September of the same year. Design and construction 
were to proceed concurrently, as the building was 
scheduled for completion in June 2000. 39 The project was 
completed two months ahead of schedule. 

In an unpublished paper on the project and its 
design theme, the towers are described by the architects 
involved: 'More than just a pair of tall buildings, the pro- 
ject's scale and various components can be more suitably 
described as a "development" that significantly adds to 
the infrastructure of a growing city in ways similar to the 
effect Raymond Hood's 40 Rockefeller Plaza had during 
the heydays of New York skyscrapers and continues to 
have to this day.' 41 The architects rightly add that the 
sheer scale of the project and its 'state-of-the-art features 
and facilities offer compelling evidence of the city's . . . 
drive to lead the region into the next millennium . . . The 
slender proportions of the towers add further to the 
impressive massing to create an unmistakable visual 
representation of Dubai's vision for the coming century'. 42 

The architects' statement elucidates the raison d'etre of 
the client's brief and their response. 

That the structural interpretation provided in 
the slender towers is neither imposing nor overbearing 
is remarkable. Despite the soaring heights, a measure 
of scale and proportion, evident in the design lines 
and maintained in the plan, details and forms, is both 
commendable and unusual. The client wanted a 'bold 
statement': such was the response of NORR Group 
architect Syed Ali al-Karimi to my query about the 
project's cultural representation and influences. He 
explained that patterns were abstracted and employed 'as 
the only culturally sensitive aspect in the design'. This 
transparency sums up the virtue of the design, reflected 
in the volume, lines and details. 

The twin triangular towers stand on a site measuring 
3 50 x 500 metres, located in a rapidly developing suburb 
of Dubai adjacent to the World Trade Centre on the 
main Shaykh Zayed road, a major tower-lined artery 
leading to the city centre. The development consists of 
an office tower (355 metres high) and a hotel tower (305 
metres high). At the time of the project's completion and 
opening in mid-2000, the office tower was to claim its 
place as the tallest building in the Middle East and 
Europe and the tenth-tallest (office tower) in the world, 
with the hotel tower claiming seventeenth place on the 
list of the twenty tallest buildings worldwide. In 1 999 the 
office tower ranked twelfth and the hotel tower twenty- 
third. 43 The office tower (at the time of this review, 
September 1999) was ranked as the tallest in the Middle 
East, Europe and Africa, and the project as a whole 
represented the third-tallest twin towers in the world. 
The silver-grey, metal-and-glass towers rise out of a low 
horizontal-stepped granite base to become the focal 
point of the surrounding skyline. 

Each tower is built in the shape of an equilateral 
triangle, with each side being 55.5 metres. It is thought 
that the triangle represents an Islamic geometric theme. 44 
The triangular pattern is accentuated throughout the 
project in the repeating patterns of ceramic fretted glass 


Panoramic view of the Emirates Towers complex looking east 





in the towers' slanting roofs, skylights and canopy 
structures, and extends to the interior and exterior 
paving patterns. According to the architects, this basic 
grid geometry is balanced by the contrast found in the 
curves of the base structure's north and south granite- 
clad walls, the large cascading waterfall in front of the 
hotel entrance and the delicate lines of the marble-inlaid 
geometric patterns used in paved circulation areas in the 
interior. The lobby space leads from the entrance to a 
central core of 16 lifts which serve the four financial 

institutions in the respective tower zones. Each lift 
travels at a speed of up to seven metres per second. 

The approach to the 54-storey office tower is by a 
ramped driveway that leads to the skylit space of the 
entrance lobby, with its fine-quality granite, back-lit 
stained-glass feature and marble flooring throughout. 
Two attractively designed water features, running either 
side of the entrance, complement the generous space 
that, with its sculpted cherry-wood bench, functions as a 
waiting area. 


The twin Emirates Towers looking 
north with the low horizontal 
podium of the retail and parking 


Emirates Towers site plan showing 
the whole complex, the office tower 
located to the north-east and the 
hotel tower to the north-west 



The lower segment of the building consists of 
circular floor plates forming a drum of clear glass eight 
storeys high. The triangular geometry of the tower 
above is made apparent at the drum level by three 'legs' 
that straddle the circular floors. 

Atypical floor plate is 1,334 square metres (gross) 
and is designed to provide maximum flexibility in the 
use of floorspace with a minimum number of columns. 
The floor-to-floor height is 4.5 metres. The tower is 
designed with access flooring throughout in order to 
accommodate state-of-the-art information technology 
and building services. Dominated by precision, clean 
lines and attention to detail, the interior space of the 
office tower echoes the exterior. 

The hotel tower's main entrance leads to the split- 
level, skylit lobby containing the Palm Court (lounge and 
cafe) and hotel reception with an eight-storey atrium 
(around 3 metres high in total, and the floor-to-floor 
height is 3.6 metres). Black granite cladding, cream 
marble flooring, Angree wood panelling and chrome and 
stainless steel combine in the interior finishes of the 
space. The restaurants and retail malls as well as the 
function and banquet hall - which includes a ballroom - 
on the lower level are accessed through the lobby via 
separate escalators and grand staircases respectively. The 
ballroom, 900 square metres, can also be accessed by a 
separate entrance located to the south. A second upper 
atrium soars 111 metres above, opening onto guest 
rooms and suites. 

Top left 

View down Shaykh Zayed Road 


Street level close-up view across 
from Shaykh Zayed Road showing 
the Emirates Towers hotel tower on 
the right and the office tower to the 


Office tower: entrance lobby and 

reception area showing the wood 

panelling framed in aluminium. 

The photograph is taken from the 

fountain bench in the foreground. 

The skylight's space frame is in 

glass and stainless-steel cables with 

the framing members in regular 

painted steel 






Office tower: main entrance floor 

Bottom left 

Office tower: close-up of glass 
frame skylight in the reception area 


Office tower: close-up of water 
feature and fountain In the 
entrance lobby 


Office tower: lift lobby, with 
stained-glass skylight, marble 
flooring pattern, Brazilian granite- 
clad walls and stainless-steel lift 





Office tower: typical floor plan, 
mid-rise floors 


Office tower: main entrance floor 


Hotel tower: close-up from the 
retail mall entrance, showing the 
curvilinear granite wall and 
exterior steps to the podium roof 

As in the case of the office tower, the first eight 
levels of the hotel are enclosed within a clear glass drum 
and are designed to provide conference rooms, meeting 
rooms and business-related support functions for hotel 
guests. Above the drum the 339 guest rooms and suites 
are served by four glass-panelled elevators offering 
panoramic views. Arranged around a glazed atrium 3 1 
storeys high, the elevators face the Gulf waters. Dedicated 
to the 'business traveller', the rooms are 'luxurious' in 
terms of space. Defined as 'deluxe' each room covers an 
area of 44 square metres and is provided with designer 
work stations and granite- and marble-clad bathrooms 
with fittings designed by Philippe Starck. The upper 
seven levels of the hotel tower, served by three private, 
high-speed elevators, contain 57 executive club rooms 
(minimum space of 63 square metres each), three 
presidential suites (each covering 230 square metres) and 
one royal suite occupying two floors. The penthouse 
level of the tower is designed as an exclusive bar with full 
views of the coastline. 






Function hall 



The two towers are connected via the three-storey 
base, which accommodates the retail shopping on its main 
level as well as the hotel's leisure facilities. With a retail 
area in excess of 5,000 square metres, the primary 
shopping artery is laid along a north-south axis via a series 
of skylit courtyards and a central rotunda, from which 
the mall's upper level can be reached. The remaining 
base area comprises a double-height function/banquet 
hall, support areas for office, hotel and retail components 
and underground parking for 400 shoppers' cars. Two 
curvilinear structures, 'reminiscent of massive shifting 
sand dunes', surround the project to the east and west 
(providing a further 1,000 parking spaces for the towers 
and service areas). An internal ring road is set amidst 
17 hectares of lush landscaping and contouring, thus 
accentuating the surrounding arid expanse. 


Hotel tower: view of the atrium 
looking down to Palm Court 


Hotel tower: detail of the atrium 
looking down through the entire 
depth of the building 




Hotel tower: floor plan of the lounge and typical guest rooms (Level 11) 


Hotel tower: detail of the lift shaft and steel-rail structure opening on to the 
atrium at the upper-floor levels 


Hotel tower: east-west section 















: : t 


wwmm r>^ 




Close-up of the glass and steel-frame skylight in the retail mall 


Interior view of the retail mall looking towards the entrance 



Jumeirah Beach Resort 

WS Atkins and Partners Overseas (Dubai, 1 997) 
Architects: Tom Willis-Wright, Kevin Cook 
Design Manager: Simon Crispe 

In October 1993 the British firm WS Atkins began 
working on the Jumeirah Beach Resort project in 
Dubai. The client was HH Shaykh Muhammad Bin 
Rashed Al-Maktum. The scheme included the Jumeirah 
Beach Hotel, 45 Burj al-Arab (intended as 'a landmark tower 
hotel'), and the Wild Wadi, 46 a state-of-the-art water 
theme park, all on one 26 hectare site on the shores of 
the Arabian Gulf in Dubai. 47 For the whole development, 

WS Atkins, 48 as the lead consultant, provided design, 
architecture, engineering and construction management. 
The Jumeirah Beach Hotel, designed in the shape 
of a breaking wave, was opened in November 1997. Burj 
al-Arab, 'the Arab Tower', is the highlight of the project. 
Opened in December 1999, this extraordinary tower, 
321 metres high, designed in the shape of a giant sail on a 
triangular plan, fulfils the client's brief to construct 
a landmark building in Dubai. Hailed at one time as 
the fifteenth tallest building in the world, and the tallest 


The jumeirah Beach Resort and the Burj al-Arab site plan. 
1. Burj al-Arab Hotel 2. jumeirah Beach Hotel 3. Wild Wadi 



single-structure hotel, 49 it has been constructed on a 
man-made island, 300 metres out to sea. The building 
has come to symbolize Dubai's 'international business 
and tourist trade status' and, more importantly for the 
Emirates, is a monument of pride corresponding with 
the order of the 'new millennium'. 

Jumeirah Beach Hotel 

A 26-storey curved mass in plan, the elevation and 
structure was designed to represent a breaking ocean 
wave. Situated in a southern upmarket residential- and 
beach-club suburb, the building, or wave, is 93 metres 
high and 275 metres long. In the middle lobby space the 
central atrium, designed to resemble a geometric petal, 
rises up from the reception area though to the upper 26 
storeys. The east-facing wall of the atrium, 90 metres 
high, is decorated with a satellite view of the earth, 
a galaxy of the stars, and a moon in orbit, depicted in 
relation to the UAE. The 600 guestrooms and suites, all 
with views of the sea, occupy the two curves of the 'wave' 
that extend north-east and south-west. These are reached 
on each floor from the west- and south-west facing 
gallery surrounding the atrium, where the lifts are found. 
Following the initial concept study, the architects 
researched the hotel's structural resistance through 


View of the north-extending curve of the wave, taken from the hotel atrium 


Arabian Gulf facade of the hotel: 'a breaking ocean wave' 




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Arabian Gulf-side elevation of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel: the 'breaking wave' 


Elevation of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel from the land 




Detail of the water feature in the hotel entrance foyer, located between the 

Top left 

Detail of the atrium wall depicting the earth and its orbit; the lit protruding 
pole marks the location of the UAE 

Bottom left 

The top of the orbit wall ends with the sun just below the ceiling 

wind-tunnel simulation of models testing against the 
local Shamal (northern wind). This helped reinforce the 
construction technique used for the entire hotel. The 
superstructure of the hotel has been built from nine 
pieces, which have been joined together by special 
seismic joints. These pass through every part of the 
building and are visible only as vertical bands in the 
external cladding. To compensate for the narrow width 
of the building, a series of sheer walls were used to 
strengthen the cross section. 50 

The resort complex is surrounded by lush land- 
scaping with facilities including several indoor and 

outdoor bars, restaurants and a three-storey conference 
centre with state-of-the-art exhibition and banqueting 
facilities. Three swimming pools are located between the 
hotel and the coast, with separate sports club facilities 
and tennis courts adjacent. A 53 -hectare marina encloses 
two breakwaters accommodating small craft and facilities 
for large-berth mooring crafts. 

Complementing the hotel is a secluded house-type 
accommodation with a six-star rating, completed in the 
summer of 1999. Situated beyond the Wild Wadi site, 
and serving as a 'traditional' backdrop, are nineteen 
private villas called Bayt al Bahr, 'the sea house'. Set on 5 



Top left 

View of the fumeirah Beach Hotel's 
slim wave-like stepped side wall 
from Bayt al Bahr 


View from the atrium 's glass frame 
structure looking towards the pool 
and landscaped grounds on the Gulf 


View of the Bayt al Bahr villas 
taken from the Bur) al-Arab. The 
Wild Wadi tower structure and 
hanging water slides can he seen in 
the background 


Close-up of the Wild Wadi tower 
immediately behind Bayt al Bahr 



hectares of land, the Arab village setting, with its cluster 
planning and enclosed walls, narrow concealed paths and 
walled gardens, was, according to the architects, 'inspired 
by the local architecture of heritage sites such as Hatta'. 
However, the architecture of the wooden strut houses is 
of vernacular Indonesian style, with a sun-baked, adobe 
finish and thatched-palm roofing, i arish. In the interior, 
the sober and unassuming furnishings and detailing are 
novel in spirit. Fine Tabriz Persian carpets, original 
Omanl chests and fabrics of subdued colours combine 
with the minimalist carved wall friezes typical of east 
Arabian architecture and Arab-style majlis seating. The 
exceptionally well-designed bathrooms confirm the 
contribution of the architects to the interior. Situated 
in landscaped gardens, each house has its own terrace 
overlooking the sea and a private pool. The only joint 

Above left 

The private street in the Bayt al Bahr complex 


View from Bayt al Bahr's main restaurant area across to the Gulf entrance of 
the complex, with the Bur) al-Arab in the background 


Main pool of the Bayt al Bahr complex and surrounding thatched-roof housing 

facilities, the main restaurant and a swimming pool, are 
located in the middle of the cluster and are accessed 
either directly from the houses or from the two main 
entrances located at the back and sea front of the site. 
The walled arrangement of Bayt al Bahr, fronting the 
Wild Wadi on the south-west, forms the last block 
before Burj al-Arab. 




Three ofBayt al Bohr's houses surrounded by the landscaped streams and 


Entrances to two houses in the Bayt a] Bahr complex 


Back entrance to the main central area in Bayt al Bahr showing the truss roof 
and column detailing 



Burj al-Arab 

The first design blueprints were prepared by WS Atkins 
in 1994, and work began in 1995 to construct the 
triangular island. Built on a piled raft, 2.7 metres thick 
and approximately 6,000 square metres in area, the 
main triangular-shaped tower structure was built and 
completed in September 1999. In addition to the design, 
WS Atkins provided and managed the construction 
services. The total time taken to complete Burj al-Arab 
was five years, with 3,000 companies involved in the 
project. The brief was to create a super-luxury, all en 
suite hotel, branded as '7 star', an icon for Dubai. 

The 28 double-storey floors accommodate the 202 
bedroom suites. The tower is 321 metres high, and is 
built on the specially man-made landscaped island off the 
Jumeirah coastline. 'With state-of-the-art technology for 
guest interfaces, this hotel was designed to establish a 
world landmark and the ultimate in service.' 51 The hotel 
also offers three richly decorated restaurants, a seaview 
restaurant on the twenty-seventh floor, one which takes 
up an entire floor, and one underwater which houses 
indigenous fish in 1,150 cubic metres of water in three 
reef aquariums 'accessible only via a submarine-styled 
ride'. A sumptuous, Petra-Moroccan inspired health 
suite is situated on the eighteenth floor. 

Above left 

The north-facing facade of the Burj al-Arab from the manna restaurant 

Above right 

Burj al-Arab from the jumeirah Beach Hotel 


Land-side (south-east) facade showing the 

bridge connecting the island between the 

Gulf and the main entrance level. The 

elevation shows a full view of the white 

atrium and curved Teflon-coated and 

woven-glass-fibre wall 


Elevation: north-facing side of the 
building, Gulf-side elevation and 
front land elevation 





Top left 

Detail of the north-facing facade 
from ground level 


The traditionally styled atrium 
showing the spa floors with 
Moroccan details and horseshoe 

Above top 

Close-up of the north-east facing 
side, looking up 

Above middle 

The triangular ceiling of the tower 
from the interior 


Interior view and detail of the 
mosaic-clad columns of the spa pool 



Built on sand, the building is supported on 250 
columns, 1.5 metres in diameter, that extend 45 metres 
under the sea. As there is only sand to hold the building 
upright, the columns rely on friction. Full-height atriums 
are enclosed in Teflon-coated woven-glass-fibre curved 
walls. The accommodation wings enclose two sides of a 
huge triangular atrium that runs up the full height of the 
accommodation floors. The third side, facing the shore, 
is enclosed by a double-skinned, Teflon-coated woven- 
glass-fibre screen made of glass-fibre fabric 1 millimetre 
thick with a Teflon coat to prevent the dirt sticking. The 
screen is hung from the top of the building with over a 
kilometre of cable 52 millimetres thick and, according to 
the architects, it is the first time such technology has been 
used in this form and to this extent. 

The atrium was designed to be the tallest in the 
world at 182 metres high, soaring up the centre of the 
'sail'. The service lifts travel at a speed of 4 metres per 
second, the panoramic lifts at a speed of 5 metres per 
second and the guest elevator at 7 metres per second. 

The technical details of the atrium-wall fabric are 
explained by David Dexter: 52 

... the solution to overcome the complex 
3 -dimensional shape of the hotel atrium wall 
whilst maintaining the overall sail-like form of 
the building, was to provide a series of shaped 
membrane panels that could be patterned to the 
defined geometry. The membrane is constructed 
from two skins and pre-tensioned over a series 
of trussed arches visible from the atrium. The 
arches span up to 50 metres between the outer 
bedroom wings of the hotel which frame the 
atrium, and are aligned with the vertical geometry 
of the building. The trussed arches which can 
extend out from the supports by up to 13 metres 
are supported vertically at the 1 8th and 26th floors 
by a series of cross-braced bars. An expansion 
joint is provided for the full height of the 
building on the right-hand side of the wall. This 
enables the building to 'breathe' under wind 
loads and avoids the exertion of large horizontal 
loads on the relatively weak bedroom structures. 

A helicopter pad protrudes on the exterior of the 
south-east facing wall of the atrium's Teflon screen wall, 
fixed to the top segment of the truncated roof, and below 
the apex of the sail's pointed arcs. From the ground it 
resembles a horizontal satellite dish, attached by two 
lynch pins to the frame of the steel structure. 

Special-effect lighting illuminates the exterior 
tower structure, dramatically accentuating its form with 
changing colour patches in hues of purple and green. 
The lighting operates in a continuous single movement, 
running up the edges of the frame, and is visible for miles 
at night. 

Internal water features 

The water features conceived by WET Design, an 
American company, achieve a system of order in the 
water molecule through 'lamina-flow technology', as 
discovered by Mark Fuller, who then designed the 
system here. The features upon entering the tower 
generate a 'show' which becomes a central focal point 
within the vast space of the atrium lobby. The design 
overview, explained in the text produced by WS Atkins, 
provides an insight into the delicate order and precision 
manifest in the captivating geometry of the water 
patterns and movement. This is explained by the design 

The Atrium Water Feature is conceived as a 
water sculpture that visually engages the visitors. 


View of the water feature in the lobby of the mezzanine level, opening onto the 
atrium in front of the lift area 




Detail of the water feature's basin 
showing the geometric 
configuration and illuminated star 
pattern in the centre with the water 
jets shooting out in interlaced arcs 


View of the atrium looking down to 
the entrance foyer's ground and 
mezzanine levels 


View showing the galleries of the 
accommodation floors looking 
down through the atrium from 


Detail showing the conjunction of 
one of the tower's walls and the 
atrium's white Teflon screen 


Detail of the atrium's Teflon screen 
and the projecting galleries of the 
north-facing accommodation floors 

Centrally placed within the atrium space, the 
circular-form water feature is composed of 24 
white fibre optic lit water arches, identified as 
'LeapFrogs', 5 ' that surround a gently sloped 
bowl of multicoloured crushed glass aggregate. A 
powerful column of water, the 'Hyper Shooter', 
surrounded by six smaller 'MiniShooters', forms 
the central focus of this feature. The sloped plane 
of the catchment bowl terminates at a shallow 
pool in the centre of the feature. 

Rising from the bowl and encircling the 
sloped plane, the laminar streams create water 
arches in interlaced geometric (three-dimensional 
Islamic star pattern configurations). Illuminated 
both by uplights and white fibre optic lights, these 
water streams create crystalline water arches 
(intersecting in an ordered flow) within the 
atrium space. 

Periodically, as part of a choreographed 
sequence, the HyperShooter erupts from the 
shallow pool to a height of 30 metres, like an 
indoor geyser. This energetic column of water 
shatters into a myriad of sparkling droplets and is 
illuminated by a ring of white uplights. The 
HyperShooter can be adjusted to project the 



Arched braces above the atrium's mezzanine level and a view of the projecting 
galleries of the accommodation wings 


Detail looking towards the top of the building showing the conjunction of the 
two walls and the atrium screen 

water column to a maximum height of 50 metres 
up into the air. 

The Cascade Water Feature produces a 
waterfall descending from a height of 7 metres. 
Divided into steps of varying height, increasing 
down the slope to create a three-dimensional 
elliptical surface. The fan-shaped waterfall is 
located between the two escalators that link the 
ground and first floors. The use of brightly- 
coloured crushed-glass aggregate, contained in 
80 diamond-shaped water catchment trays of 
varying sizes, combine with a light show to 
provide a dramatic effect on first entry into the 
Atrium Lobby. 

The feature comprises controlled falls of 
water over diamond tiers of glass aggregate onto 
inclined grooved green/grey granite slabs, which 



create a shimmering water skin as a backdrop to 
the active laminar stream presentations on each 
level. The feature contains 24 pairs of coloured 
fibre optic lit LeapFrogs, each pair designed to 
collide creating a bright spark effect as the fibre 
optic light disperses at the intersection point. 
The spark is further highlighted by dimmable, 
coloured uplighting. 

Operation of both features is computer con- 
trolled so as to choreograph an array of different 
sequences and patterns in the displays. Light and 
movement are combined with the sound of the 
impacting water streams to maximum effect - parts 
of the sequence even sound like hand-clapped 
rhythms. Viewed from high above at the top of 
the atrium, the colour and light of the features 
continue to form a pattern and focal point for the 
whole space. 54 

The endorsement of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel 
and Burj al-Arab has been accompanied by generous 
Arab hospitality and high occupancy rates have been 
encouraged by special package offers, both touristic 
and commercial. 55 However, architecturally, Burj al-Arab 
in particular will undoubtedly go down in the history 
of Arabia as a monument of circumstantial folly, a 
contradiction of sorts, considering how well-designed 
and impressive the construction ultimately proves to be. 
In a similar vein, the attempt to justify the project as a 
monument draws parallels with London's Millennium 
Dome, the difference being that the exclusive function 
of Burj al-Arab is to endorse a particular lifestyle in a 
wealthy oil region, one that is characterized by an 
increasing per capita income. Looking beyond the 
structure, what may justify the lifespan or purpose 
of such a monument becomes irrelevant. This extra- 
ordinary investment in state-of-the-art construction 
technology stretches the limits of the ambitious urban 
imagination in an exercise that is largely due to the 
power of excessive wealth. 

International in concept, multinational and cor- 
porate in its identity, Burj al-Arab at first seems rather 
incongruous. In architectural terms of reference, how 

does a San Tropez 'sail' of steel and concrete assume to 
be a cultural statement? 

In the interior, the furnishings and fabrics, volup- 
tuous gold columns, archways and gilded lift-frames 
(actually gold-plated in part), mirror panels, granite (azul 
bahia), Carrara marble, and mosaic-tiled inlays all 
combine with ordered water features and a welcoming 
scent of sandalwood. 56 The result is a baroque effect, 
transient with a deliberate touch of ultra- or post-kitsch, 
a soft flamboyant vulgarity with a 1990s edge. This 
approaches the flair of Philippe Starck, but lacks 
the design edge of the furniture, accessories, and the 
innovative originality established in Starck's New York 
and London hotel interiors. Emulating the quality 
of palatial interiors, in an expression of wealth for 
the mainstream, a theatre of opulence is created in Burj 
al-Arab. Finally, though striking and jarring, the colour 
schemes do not impose on the building's relatively simple 
open design, sharp, slick and soaring curved wall-screen 
of woven glass-fibre, and eminent frame structure. 




American University of Sharjah 

Gambert Engineering Consulting and Decoration (Sharjah, 

This project site, branded University City, is located 
a good 10 kilometres from Sharjah, and encom- 
passes the University of Sharjah, a complex of 
higher-education institutions, and the co-educational 
American University of Sharjah (AUS). 57 The design of 
the American University was entrusted to a French 
architect, Frangoise Gambert, and the construction was 
carried out by the Saudi Binladin (SBL) Group, who also 
designed the Binladin mosque (north of the Main 
Building). 58 The project was completed in less than two 
years, with the construction carried out in eleven 
months. The co-educational and private American 
University has created an influx of a rich, multi-regional 
student body. It has also attracted international faculty 
members, many with regional affiliations through 
experience or origin. This provides an interesting and 
promising educational base, one that can substantially 
contribute to quality academic scholarship in the region. 
The establishment of a school of architecture and design 

was a welcome response to the sparsity in architectural 
academic institutions, both undergraduate and post- 
graduate, in the UAE and surrounding region. 

The design follows a grand axis which connects the 
two city highways (the main Sharjah Airport Road and the 
Industrial Area Road) via an avenue 100 metres wide and 
4.5 kilometres long. A symmetrical plan neatly arranges all 
the faculty and school buildings along the central axis, and 
they are set back to accommodate the arcade that opens 
onto the main court. The main administration building 
of the AUS is centred on this axis. The approach avenue 
terminates in a flight of red granite stairs, 75 metres wide, 
which lead to a raised plaza with neo-classical urns on 
either side of the balustrade parapet (adding a Versailles 
touch to the fountain vista). 59 In addition to the faculty 
buildings, the campus has separate dormitories for male 
and female students, faculty housing, residences for the 
deans and chancellor, a sports complex, tennis courts and 

A 'post-Islamic' colonial 'Cairene' style is repre- 
sented in the main building. Overpowering both in scale 


The American University of Sharjah mosque, adjacent to the main building and 
the faculty building's north-west wing 



O Main building 

Q Business and management 

Q Art and Sciences I (Chemistry) 

Q Art and Sciences II (Physics) 

Q Languages 

Q Design 

Q Architecture 

Q Dining Room and 
Student Activities 

Q Mosque 

(J) Engineering 

d> North parking 

^ South parl<ing 

(J) Faculty Staff Housing South 

(J) Men's Dormitory 

(£) University City Gate 

^ American University Gate 

(2) Women's Dormitory 

^ Chancellor's residence 

(g) Faculty Staff Housing North 

^) Dean's Residences 

^ Sports complex 

^ Tennis courts 


American University ofSharjah: site plan. The site is located between the main 
Sharjah Airport Road to the north-east and the road leading to the industrial 
area and King Faisal Road, each manned by the university gates at either end of 
the approach avenue and main axial spine of the plan. At the centre is the main 


The piazza arcade of the main building, showing the lofty arches and decorative 
pre-cast elements cladding the columns, arch soffits and ceiling panels 

and stature, its dome rises up nearly 40 metres. As an 
axial 'edifice' crowning the court and faculty buildings, 
the building has a commanding and impressive presence, 
and at first glance the planning concept does not appear 
flawed. The internal space, however, is dominated by 
unused formal space, asserting an illusion of authority 
commonly found in court buildings and state institu- 
tions. Upon entering the building, a rotunda, octagonal 
in plan and nearly 35 metres wide, marks the centre of 
this vast interior space. The diameter of the dome is 
15.75 metres and the distance, at ground level, between the 
columns of the the octagon's diameter is 28.88 metres. 60 
Module panels are repeatedly used in the construc- 
tion of the arcades and the fagades of the two-storey 
faculty buildings. The standard arcade panel is 4 metres 




Main building elevation, showing examples of Egyptian neo-colonial and lofty 
Mughal arches 


Main building ground-floor plan showing the central octagonal hall 




Main building second-floor plan 
showing the octagonal void of the 
atrium space in the centre with the 
administration and management 
offices and meeting rooms designed 
around it 


Main building, seen from the open 


View of the arcade of the faculty 

in width. The wall panels vary in width between 3 .2 and 
4.22 metres, with a standard height of 5.1 metres. The 
pre-cast panels, which are finished with buff-coloured 
sandstone, are typified by applied cornices, border 
friezes with a relief motif, and twin pointed-arch 
(gothic) openings framing windows. The entrance to 
each faculty block leads to a square hall in the centre, 
around which lecture and meeting halls, and classrooms 
and offices, are laid out on two floors. A basement floor 
has labs, studios, storage and other services and facilities. 
A central dome soars above the hall space, with a window 
pierced in the drum to provide internal lighting. North 
African reference (semi-circular arches) is employed in 
the arcade panels. 

The speed with which the building was constructed 
does not justify a lack of attention to detail and execution, 




Facade of the School of Architecture, and the Design and Language Faculties on 
the edge of the piazza 

obvious in the poor construction 'assemblage' and finish. 
Pre-cast units and many elements of the buildings 
(including fitted domes, column shafts, capitals, friezes, 
screens, arch frames and panels) are blunt in scale and 
rendering. This is further apparent in the cladding, joints 
and juncture points. Although an attempt has been made 
to 'gentrify' the building design with a large open court 
and surrounding landscaped gardens, complete with 
fountains and running streams, the overall result is flat 
and obtrusive. 

A conflict of interest arises between the expression 
of the architecture, its cultural representation, and the 
function of the space. Nowhere is this more clear than in 
the large open vista of the piazza. A paved court, visually 
very pleasing, the piazza initially appears to provide a 
favourable internal campus nucleus. Wide sidewalks and 
paved areas, together with landscaped courtyards with 
canals and fountains, all add to the attractiveness of the 
enclosure and serve to emphasize the exclusive atmos- 
phere of its surrounds. It is therefore deplorable that the 
sun and glare of Sharjah's arid desert climate prevent this 
inviting open-court enclosure from being used during the 
day. The scant shade provided by the symmetrical arcades 
lining the court fails to render the court a bearable space 

Above middle 

View of one of the piazza fountains looking across to the faculty wing, running 
along the north-eastern side 


The vast open vista of the piazza looking south-west 




School of Architecture: elevation of the front court. A typical view of the faculty buildings opening 
onto the main piazza or central court, linked by the raised arcade on the ground floor 


College of Business Management: front and rear elevations, located across the piazza from the School of Architecture 


College of Languages: elevation, located at the end of the piazza to the north-east 




College of Languages: ground floor plan indicating the typical layout of the 
faculty buildings. The arcade leads to the piazza-facing entrance. A square 
central hall takes up the full height of the building and is topped with the dome 
seen in the elevation 


College of Languages: first floor plan indicating the typical layout of the faculty 
buildings at this level. Faculty offices, meeting rooms and laboratories are 
located around the central court opening onto the gallery 

in the heat. Friedrich Ragette, former Chairman of the 
Department of Architecture at the American University 
of Beirut, suggests that this obvious, ill-considered design 
point is intentional, 'since nobody is really expected 
to use them' 61 in temperature conditions of 45°C - a 
presumptuous interpretation. 

In terms of cultural representation, architects 
working in Arabia seem to have difficulty with regional 
architectural references. A classic situation results in a 
pastiche of 'Islamic' styles recently re-branded as Arab. 
Therefore little distinction is found between the green 
fired tiles found in Moroccan and Andalusian vault, 
dome and roof parapets, and used as a decorative motif 
of the main building roof, and the lofty Mughal-style 
arcade front. An article appearing in The Financial 
Times described the campus as 'a grandiose spread of 
neoclassical Mughal architecture reminiscent of the 
maharaja's palace at Jodhpur and other monuments 
from the days of the British-Indian raf. 62 The result is 
an Islamic pastiche that borrows heavily from the safe 
and rigid neoclassical style, with its open vistas and 

orderly symmetry, and the neo-colonial model, both 
Mughal and Egyptian. 

Note onAUS drawings 

The architectural drawings of the AUS illustrated 
here are preliminary, and were subject to changes and 
amendments in the course of constructing the building. 
They do however give an indication of the design and the 
overall layout of the plan. 


Observations on the development 
of Abu Dhabi 

Nazar Othman Ahmad 

Since the production of oil in the mid-1960s and the 
subsequent establishment of the country in 1971, 
the United Arab Emirates have been undergoing 
vast development programmes which have physically 
changed the shape of the country. This has not only 
transformed the old oases, market towns and harbours 
into major cities but has also resulted in the creation of 
completely new towns and cities. The prime example of 
this phenomenon is the capital of UAE, the city of Abu 
Dhabi, which has been developed in less than thirty years 
from a small harbour and fishing settlement into a major 
city in the Gulf region. 

Based on personal observations, this chapter sets 
out to describe the physical pattern in which the urban 

development has taken place and indicates some of the 
factors which have influenced the shaping of this pattern. 
It then presents some of the main features of the city's 
plan which have determined its physical development. 
This is followed by a section describing the urban fabric 
in terms of space creation, scale, continuity, identity and 
human integration (or the lack of it) in this fabric. 

The chapter then describes the dramatic urban 
renewal that has been taking place for the last decade and 
looks, in the final section, at where future development 
is leading. 

Building a new city 

Unlike new towns which were built as satellites to 
existing metropolises or new capital cities in an 
already existing urban hierarchy of settlements, such as 
Islamabad, Brasilia, Chandigarh etc., Abu Dhabi was 
conceived and built as the catalyst for an emerging country 
and as the major centre in a hierarchy of settlements yet 
to be. As such the city of Abu Dhabi (to be distinguished 
from the Emirate of Abu Dhabi) was synthesized as a 
completely new city in a new country. 

The image which the first city builders wanted to 
achieve in Abu Dhabi was that of a totally 'modern' city 
fit for the technological revolution of the 1960s and 
beyond, especially the rapid increase in the ownership of 
motor vehicles. The city was thus conceived physically as 
a combination of two main elements, namely the major 
arterial roads crossing each other in a grid-iron pattern 
and forming between them large super-blocks, and the 
multi-storey buildings which filled these super-blocks. 



The model for this was possibly the island of 
Manhattan and the objective was to create, in a very 
short period of time, a convincing resemblance in 
physical terms of a highly urbanized settlement. 

The term 'urbanization' is often used in planning 
terminology and its Arab equivalent is tahaddur, a 
derivative of hadarah which means civilization. In other 
words urbanization is synonymous with civilization and 
civilization in this respect is the creation of a 'modern' 

This image was endorsed through the creation 
of high-rise buildings as a sure sign of city development 
and as a physical sign of progress. It is necessary to 
understand the psychology underlying the interpretation 
of progress. Modern architecture and town planning, in 
international terms, brought the possibility of vertical 
expansion coupled with commercial speculation. Large- 
scale development became impressive, especially in 
societies where small-scale low-rise low-density living is 
common. In order to emphasize that a city is progressive 
it was felt essential that high-rise development should be 
its backbone. 

One should also consider the effect of the actual 
demand generated by the expatriate population which 
was attracted to working and living in Abu Dhabi as 
a result of economic growth. The primary economic 
sector that attracted employment was oil extraction, 
transportation and marketing. This generated further 
employment in the construction and service sectors 
which in turn generated additional multiplier effects. All 
of this attracted a workforce from various parts of the 
world. Most of those who came were either single people 
or had small young families. The trend was therefore to 
live in small flats. Most of the expatriates who might 
originally have come on short- to medium-term contracts 
and who probably only planned to stay on temporary or 
transient bases felt that living in flats was much more 
convenient than living in houses, not that houses were 
readily available anyway. This was also influenced by the 
fact that a lot of the expatriate population came from 
cities where living in a flat was common practice. 

Another factor which encouraged high-rise develop- 
ment was the desire of landowners to maximize return on 

land given to them by the State. Since financing 
was facilitated on easy terms, originally from the 
commercial banks and later from the Department of 
Social Services and Commercial Buildings (DSSCB), 
owners were keen to maximize the utilization of land 
with vertical expansion. Usually high-rise development 
is appropriate for the provision of office space, but since 
the demand for office space was limited, the nature of 
development in general led to the creation of residential 
flats which could also be used as offices, clinics and 
the like. This led to a first generation of multi-storey 
buildings that were totally mixed in the way they were 
utilized. It is still very common to have a residential flat 
next to a doctor's or dentist's clinic or an architect's or 
a lawyer's office. In other instances it is not uncommon 
to find large polyclinics or Government departments 
occupying several floors of an apartment block. As a 
result residents, professionals and patients have to share 
their stairs, lifts and lobbies with each other. 

The development of Abu Dhabi was also influenced 
by landowners' desire to reflect a certain status and 
individuality in the city. Competition for erecting the 
'unusual' and possibly the 'higher' followed, with an 
interest in establishing with each different building a 
monumental statement. 

This choice, which was a result of the availability of 
varied construction and finishing materials, technology, 
design capabilities and the like which hitherto were very 
limited or not even available, encouraged landowners 
to ask for fancy buildings, different in look from the 
surrounding buildings, so as to stand out in form, colour, 
style, finishes and so on. 



Features of the city plan 

Panoramic view of Abu Dhabi Island looking towards the Corniche Road, where the 

results of the commercial investment in recent construction is on show. In the 

foreground is the Baynunah Tower, adjacent to the separate British Embassy 

compound, secluded amidst gardens and low-rise red-roofed tiled buildings. 

The city of Abu Dhabi is built on a triangular island 
which is connected at its narrow tip to the mainland 
by two bridges, one of which, Al Maqta' bridge, was 
recently doubled by building a duplicate one next to it. 
The island was first settled around 1795 when Shaykh 
Shakhbut bin Diyab of the Al Bu Falah tribe, the ruler of 
the Banl Yas tribal federation, made it the seat of his 
federation and moved there from the mainland. The 
main reason for moving to settle on the island was to 
achieve sufficient security and protection from other 
tribes and this was made possible by its natural harbour 
and the existence of fresh water on its shores. Fishing and 
pearl diving flourished with the associated boat building 
and trading activities. This small settlement remained 
without any significant development until the mid- 1 960s 
when HH Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan came to 

power and started the modern development of Abu 
Dhabi as the capital city of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. 
Later (in 1971) it became the capital of the UAE, thus 
maintaining the historic importance of the island. This 
was augmented by the traditional sense of security and 
protection, the maximization of the seafront develop- 
ment and the romantic notion of being surrounded by 
the sea, where traditionally two of the main economic 
activities took place, namely pearl diving and fishing. 

The city was designed as a grid-iron system with 
main longitudinal arterial roads running along the length 
of the island and others of equal importance cutting 
across its width. The areas enclosed by these main roads 
form the super-blocks within which urban development 
has been taking place. Generally speaking, high-rise 
developments of up to twenty storeys (commonly 






Above left 

Towering 1990s buildings. Curtain wall glass-clad facades rise along the main 
corniche and line the main roads of Abu Dhabi 

Above right 

New generation buildings combining commercial and residential use. Recently 
completed and a product of the intense reconstruction of the 1990s, these 
buildings compete in the urban landscape with different interpretations and the 
new identity with styles that can be loosely placed as an echo of high-modern or 
post-modern architecture 

known as towers) are strung along the perimeters of the 
super-blocks while the inner parts are occupied mainly 
by lower-rise buildings of up to seven storeys. In areas 
nearer to the Corniche Road, the inner parts are also 
formed of high-rise buildings. This is particularly so 
in the areas between Hamdan and Khalifah Streets, 
between Khalifah and Corniche Streets, between Baniyas 
and Salam Streets and in some parts of the Tourist Club 
district. These areas therefore form the highest urban 
density in the city. In another extreme, the land use is 
allocated totally for low-rise residential villas towards 
the south-eastern part of the city. A mixture of the two 
forms also exists, whereby the inner part of the super- 
block is mainly of low-rise villas while the perimeters are 

high- to medium-rise buildings. This occurs along parts 
of Shaykh Rashid Al Maktum Street (also known as 
Airport Road) and the super-blocks between Falah and 
Haza'a Streets. 

A few larger blocks are occupied by low- to 
medium-rise public buildings spread over generous areas. 
(Examples of these are the Municipality and Planning 
complex, Jazira, Central and Shaykh Khalifah Hospitals 
and the Cultural Foundation.) Furthermore some of the 
super-blocks are utilized primarily for open landscaped 
areas and park land such as Asima Gardens, Corniche 
Gardens, Khaldeya Park, Nasr Gardens and Bateen 
Airport Park. In addition to these open landscaped 
areas the sea edge on Corniche Street is also landscaped, 
varying in width between 10 and 100 metres. Most of the 
main arterial roads have generous central reservations 
which are planted. Some of these reservations are quite 
substantial, forming linear gardens. This is particularly so 
at parts of the Airport Road, Mina' Road, Corniche Road, 
Baynunah Street, Shaykh Zayed the First Street, East 
Road, Murrur Road and the new Eastern Corniche Road. A 
major recreation area is to be found at the north-western 
end of the Island, called Ras Al Akhdar. This, along with 



A set of high-rise blocks combining 

residential and commercial use 

adjacent to the Etisalat building 

across from the Cultural 

Foundation on Shaykh Zayed II 

Street. The lower buildings are the 

product of the first period of 

construction that took place during 

the 1970s and early 1980s 

the Breakwater is formed from a large area of reclaimed 
land turned into parks, beaches, sports and recreational 
facilities and a large shopping complex, the Marina Mall. 
Recently part of this area has been allocated for a major 
conference centre and related facilities which are 
currently under construction. Nearby Lulu Island, a 
substantial area, extends all the way to the northern end 
opposite the Corniche Road and is being developed for 
recreational use. 

Most of the federal government ministries, a few 
major oil companies' headquarters and two main hotels 
are concentrated at the western corner of the city nearer 
to the Corniche. Other main hotels and oil company 
headquarters are located at the northern corner of the 
city. Major sports stadia and facilities are located further 
to the south-east while commercial activities are spread 
all over the city but concentrated in the north-western 
part and along the Shaykh Rashid Al Maktum Street. 

Except for some limited industrial facilities in 
the Port Zayid area and small repair shops scattered in 
various parts of the city, no industrial activities are found 
within the Island. The majority of these activities are 
located on the mainland opposite the southern tip of the 
Island in the Mussaffah area. This area contains activities 
related to light industries, repair industries, storage 
facilities and the like. Recently, multi-storey, low-rise 
residential buildings have also been developed in this 
area. Musaffah also contains a small port and a dry dock; 
however, the main port of Abu Dhabi is Mlna' Zayid 
which is located in the northern tip of the Island. In 
addition to the normal port facilities, the area of the port 
contains substantial, privately owned storage facilities 

as well as wholesale markets for fruit, vegetables and fish. 
It also contains some industrial plants. 

The transportation system is based on road 
transport with a mixture of privately owned vehicles, 
taxis, company/school and Municipality buses. Generally 
speaking, all arterial roads have secondary service roads 
running parallel at either side. These normally contain 
car parking spaces. A very limited amount of under- 
ground parking has been provided in recent years, as part 
of high-rise buildings. The Municipality has recently 
completed a few large underground car parking facilities 
for public use in the high density parts of the city. Roads 
and at-grade car parking are also provided within the 
inner parts of the super-blocks. 

As mentioned earlier, the Island is connected to the 
mainland and subsequently to the other cities and towns 
by two bridges. The first is Al Maqta' Bridge and its 
recent twin which connect with the Shaykh Rashid Al 
Maktum Street and the recently completed Eastern 
Corniche Road. Shaykh Rashid Al Maktum Street 
cuts across the length of the city meeting the Corniche 
Road at approximately its midpoint, while the Eastern 
Corniche Road (which becomes Salam Street later) 
circles the city from its eastern perimeter. The second 
bridge, al Musaffah Bridge, is connected to the Arabian 
Gulf Road which stretches the total length of the Island 
until it meets the Corniche Road at the western corner 
of the Island. The site of Al Batln Airport (the old 
international airport), which occupies a large portion of 
the south-eastern tip of the Island near Al Maqta' Bridge, 
has been allocated for major recreational use, Shaykh 
Khalifah Public Park, which is now being developed. 



The urban fabric 

The spread of the city centre 

In a naturally evolving city, its centre will grow from a 
nucleus of physical entities which accommodate civic 
and public functions, trade, entertainment and related 
services. These entities, which are formed of buildings, 
spaces and thoroughfares, become the hub of the city's 
activities and define a centre. One of the shortcomings 
of Abu Dhabi's urban fabric is the lack of a defined city 
centre. A city centre, as an urban and a functional core, 
cannot be identified amongst the multitude of wide 
criss-crossing roads fashioned after the grid-iron plan. 

The one building which could have acted as a focal 
point for the growth of the city centre is Al Husn Palace, 
built by Shaykh Shakhbut Bin Diyab when he first settled 
on the Island around 1 795. The fortress was, up until the 
mid-1960s, the only major structure of any significance 
that stood in the Island and was also used as the residence 
of the ruling family. Although it has successfully been 
converted into a museum, grouped with a building of 
architectural merit housing the Cultural Foundation, 
it is treated as a separate monument rather than as 
an integral part of the city. The area where it stands 
together with the Cultural Foundation is now fenced and 
surrounded by major city roads. The complex of Al Husn 
Palace and the Cultural Foundation with their mix of 
civic, cultural and entertainment functions could have 
created a focal point and a major public place to attract 
people to walk through it to other parts of the city; in this 
way it could be used to link between the components 
of the city centre. Instead it is now a place that is mostly 
visited for particular cultural events and this must be 
done by car to penetrate the traffic of the surrounding 

Other opportunities to create a city centre in 
association with new civic buildings, such as the 
Municipality and Town Planning complex, federal 
government offices and ministries, National Assembly 
building, law courts etc, were not seized. The majority of 
these buildings are located on the edge of the central area 

t 1 r. Ifc" .^aa-a^ rf*L" 
— -- —[?: "I 


View of Al Husn Palace in the foreground with the Cultural Foundation housing 
the national library and an exhibition hall in the background 

and are not designed to be integrated into the urban fab- 
ric, but as individual functional buildings. 

Consequently, the central activities in Abu Dhabi 
became spread along the main streets with equal 
concentration and intensity. This effect was emphasized 
by the grid-iron division of the city which gave equal 
physical emphasis to all parts of the city without giving 
hierarchies of central place. Notwithstanding the 
quality of architecture, the urban fabric throughout the 
high-rise north-eastern end of the city has the same 
repetitive characteristics without a real identity between 







Aerial view of the British Embassy grounds, located on the Abu Dhabi corniche. 
Along with the Husn, this is the only remaining low-rise compound of the early 
era of Abu Dhabi. An idyllic enclave, reminiscent of the British Middle Eastern 
colonial environment, it provides a calm and valuable contrast, and an element 
of surprise, amongst the gloss of the surrounding urban fabric of high-investment 
property. The enclosure, despite the plain and old-fashioned quasi-colonial 
architecture, asserts a focal point of relief In the town plan. The compound 
contains the Chancery building, the Commercial Section, the Ambassador's 
Residence and housing for the Embassy staff members. The landscaped gardens 
and grounds lead to tennis courts and a swimming pool 

Opposite page 

Close-up of the reconstructed Al Husn Palace, at the Husn Street entrance 

Bottom left 

The Commercial Section building of the British Embassy 

Bottom right 

Close-up of the entrance to the Chancery, British Embassy 

one street or another or between various major inter- 
sections. Thus the whole of the high-rise portion of the 
city acts as a loosely spread centre. 

Coupled with the above, there is no distinction in 
the land-use mix between residential and commercial 
activities in the high-rise part of the city. As mentioned 
earlier, residential, commercial, office, entertainment 
etc. are all mixed together in the same area and the same 
building. This phenomenon has prevented the feel of a 
central business district (CBD) which is normally the 
hub of the city centre and is usually focused on office and 
commercial activities. Only very few multi-storey build- 
ings are totally designated for office use. The majority 
are residential buildings designed as apartments, part of 
which may be rented as offices. Although this does have 
the advantage that most of the areas are lived in, so there 
will not be dead areas at night, one still feels that the 
mixture is so haphazard that an essential component of 
the CBD has been sacrificed. 

I 10 


In this context it ought to be noted that the spatial 
morphology of the city does not have the sequence of 
spaces, routes, walkways, meeting points and the like 
which are common in a city centre and which give the 
interest of moving and walking within an urban centre and 
experiencing varying spaces such as courts, squares, suqs 
and cafes. Here the city has been planned primarily for 
vehicular movement which unfortunately has sacrificed 
the intimate relationship between man and town. This is 
especially so as the scale of the major roads dissecting the 
city is so vast and unrelated to human scale. Although the 
extreme heat and humidity of the summer season may 
not on the face of it encourage the concept of walking in 
sequential spaces, this could be resolved with a more 
considerate urban design. The fact that nearly half the 
year offers ideal weather for walking and sitting outside 
justifies the creation of pedestrian squares and courts. 

The problem of identity 

The other feature of the urban fabric is its lack of 
identity. As mentioned earlier the majority of roads have 
the same characteristics of being wide, linear and having 
a continuous string of high-rise buildings on either 
side. Even the road intersections look alike with roughly 
similar high-rise buildings surrounding them. Unless 
one is well acquainted with the city, it can be difficult 
sometimes to identify a particular street or intersection. 

Lack of identity is also a result of the similarity of 
plot subdivisions and the physical form of buildings, for 
although they may reflect a variety of architectural fagade 
design, as a whole they represent a more or less similar 
massing treatment which has resulted in the formation of 
multi-storey pillars stretching from one road intersection 
to another. 

The desire of the individual citizen to own his piece 
of land and to build a multi-storey building which he can 
identify with, along with the wish of the State to satisfy 
this desire, have led to the subdivision of land into a 
maximum number of individual plots for distribution 
amongst national citizens. To generate a maximum 
number of plots, it was necessary to minimize the size. 
It was also necessary to leave small gaps between plots. 
The result is endless small plots individually parcelled, 

varying in size between 16.4 x 24.4 metres and 30.5 x 
30.5 metres in general, with some smaller and other 
larger plots. The gap between plots can be as small as 
three metres. As can be appreciated, the development of 
small multi-storey buildings on these plots has resulted 
in the creation of individual entities towering next 
to each other with little connection between them to 
integrate them together. Each building is too small, in 
plan, to be appreciated on its own as a distinguished 
component of the fabric, and they are different in style 
and too separate from each other to be read as part of a 
whole. One can equate this situation with a fabric that is 
running in a vertical dimension without due attention to 
the horizontal dimension, thus leaving it disjointed. 

It is clear therefore that the demand to individualize 
land and building ownership has had a major effect on the 
urban fabric. Since all the land is given to individuals by 
the State and since the State finances the construction of 
the majority of the commercial/residential buildings, one 
could pose a question as to why the ownership of land and 
the subsequent buildings was not made in a collective 
form. It is felt that this would have gone against the nature 
of people and the preference for exclusive property 
ownership. A comprehensive development of a super- 
block as an urban design entity would have created, if well 
designed, interesting physical solutions. However this 
would not have satisfied the social criteria. It is therefore 
an enigma for the planners as to where to place the 
emphasis and strike a pattern that can satisfy both criteria. 
Obviously the social criteria outweighed the physical ones. 

Urban spaces 

The provisions for car parking and vehicular movement 
have had a much more prominent priority in the 
formation of urban spaces than human movement and 
interaction. No squares or courts can be identified 
as urban places within the centre. Landscaped spaces 
within the city are parts of the central reservations of 
major roads and, though they form a visual relief, they 
are not easily accessible places for public use. In the 
evenings, at weekends and on public holidays one often 
sees groups of expatriate labourers gathered in car parks 
and on street corners for lack of formal open spaces. 


Similarly, urban spaces within the high-density 
central area (inside the super-blocks) are limited to streets 
and car parking areas which are formed between rows of 
multi-storey buildings. As the central area contains most 
of the city's expatriate residential population with young 
children, the absence of recreational facilities has led to 
the use of car parking lots as playgrounds and gathering 
places and for ball games. 

The linearity of the town form 

Being built in a grid-iron plan the city has a distinct linear 
form. Most major roads stretch in a straight line from one 
end to the other without a bend or a curve. With one or 
two minor exceptions, all the streets are perpendicular or 
parallel to each other. One can stand at one end of a 
major road such as Shaykh Rashid Al Maktum Street, 
Hamdan Street or Zayed the second Street and see the 
road and the buildings on either side in a perspective that 
stretches endlessly on a straight line. The lack of spon- 
taneity and directional changes can result in a somewhat 
rigid and blank form. It is difficult to assess the objective 
of the early planners who implemented this design on 
an empty island, in such a rigid way, except that it was 
influenced by a vision of modernity and functionalism. 

Road network 

Originally, all major roads intersected in roundabouts. As 
car ownership increased, these were no longer sufficient 
to cope with the traffic movements. Eventually, all the 
intersections were changed to signal-controlled ones. In 
addition a tunnel was built at the intersection of Shaykh 
Rashid Al Maktum and Zayed the second Streets, as well 
as a few flyovers. Although signal-controlled intersections 
have resolved traffic congestion to a certain extent, 
especially along such roads as Shaykh Rashid Al Maktum 
Street, bottlenecks are still forming during rush hours in 
many of the central streets. This is expected to become 
more acute as the population in the centre increases 
with the super-blocks becoming filled with more and 
higher-rise buildings. As the traffic generation and 
attraction of these blocks are increasing, intersections 
will gradually cease to be capable of absorbing the traffic 
flow smoothly. 

Quality of the built environment 

Two groups of buildings can be distinguished in Abu 
Dhabi - each has its own characteristics and they need 
to be discussed separately. The first is the multi-storey 
commercial/residential buildings which fill the majority 
of the urban space, while the second includes much 
larger and more prominent office and headquarter 
buildings for major corporate entities such as oil and 
telecommunication companies, hotels and some civic 
buildings. The quality of the built environment is the 
collective result of these buildings and their integration 
with surrounding spaces and other physical entities. 

■ftMHi* ^ 


_^ _ ' 


■ ■■■If llll 




■ ■■■■■■ill 



• II 





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m " 

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ilium' 1 

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The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Tower, located in one of the favourable 
spots on the corniche sea-front strip. Kurokawa's design for an annex features 
an adjacent slim rectangular building that towers well above the rest of the 
building, to emphasize its central function (Klsho Kurokawa, Tokyo, 1996) 

I 12 


The architecture of the commercial/residential 
buildings has in most instances taken an experimental 
form. The lack of historical reference of architectural 
quality coupled with the desire for the expression of 
individuality by property owners have led to architectural 
treatments which in most cases are over decorated and 
lacking harmony, scale and proportion. Images of local 
and regional heritage such as the arch have dominated 
architectural treatment and elevational solutions. The 
availability of different construction and finishing 
materials has opened up experimentation and has in many 
instances resulted in an excessive use of varying finishing 
materials either on the same elevation or on buildings 
very close to each other. Architects from different back- 
grounds and with different training have been working 
in the city with different understandings of aesthetics and 
varying approaches to design discipline and architectural 
philosophy. The bye-laws governing heights, projections, 
set backs, fenestrations etc. have largely influenced 
the form of these buildings. In addition, the statutory 


Close-up of a cluster of high-modern buildings in Abu Dhabi, some of which 
subscribe to the stereotypicaily Arab or Islamic 'arch' style; the view also shows 
a modified corner squinch, a feature of the Arkan building on the right 


Detail from the mashrabiyyah screens used on the facade of the 
Central Post Office 


I 13 


The recently constructed Central Market, known as Zayed's Shopping City, 
which employs Arab/Islamic references as typified by the dome, arches and 

Below and following page 

Detail of a commercial building, clad in pink marble and reflective glass with a 
squinch type of interplay running from the ground-level corner edge (Arkan, 

requirements to produce elevations of an 'Arab/Islamic' 
cache have led to the forceful inclusion of features such 
as arches or decorative elements that have, in many cases, 
had adverse effects on the quality of the elevations. This 
is particularly so in the second generation buildings 
when town-planning regulations allowed for higher-rise 
buildings and more funds became available allowing 
the use of more diverse cladding materials such as glass 
curtain walling, granite and marble, ceramic tiles, GRC, 
self-finished pre-cast concrete, aluminium panels and the 
like. Although these materials were used previously, they 
were used in a limited way and were mainly imported. 
With the establishment of aluminium extrusion and 
fabrication factories, GRC and pre-cast concrete factories, 
and marble and granite cutting and polishing factories, 
these materials became more readily available and more 
fashionable to use. Plot owners' individuality had to be 
reflected not only in the architectural style but also in 
materials, colours, type of glazing, motifs and features 

These features also reflected their taste in architec- 
tural style which in most cases represented a simplistic 
understanding of heritage, modernity, regionalism and 
internationalism. This, coupled with the haphazard 
experimental nature of the architectural profession that 



I 15 




The Central Post Office 


Fuchsia metal panelling and 
reflective glass characteristic of 
recent vibrant tower cladding 

mushroomed, produced some exaggerated examples 
of architectural interpretation. Gold-coloured glass 
and aluminium represented richness, while blue glass 
matched the sky and green glass reflected the green 
landscape. Rose, pink and maroon glass and aluminium 
were also used to stand out. Some tasteful and subtle 

I 16 


examples can of course be found, but the majority tend 
to be garish. 

Features of traditional architecture such as the 
arch, columns, capitals and lattice-work are also used 
extensively and in a multitude of forms, details, scales and 
sizes. Other features such as windtowers and desert forts 
have also been used to reflect regionalism but only as 
superficial decorative features and applications. 

As these buildings are so close to each other 
occupying a relatively small site, a clash of styles, 
features, materials and colours has resulted without 
sufficient space or vista to digest each separately. 

In contrast to the first group of residential/ 
commercial buildings, the second group have a distinctly 
higher architectural quality in terms of design, detailing 
and finishing. This group is represented by such 
buildings as the headquarters for oil companies 
quarters of the Telecommunication Corporation (Etisalat), 
civic centres such as the Cultural Foundation, and hotels 
such as the Abu Dhabi Grand and the Intercontinental 

The majority of buildings in this group are built on 
much larger plots than the ones described in the first 
group, allowing the designer sufficient flexibility of 
layout, massing and the creation of form. The other 
advantage is that large international architectural outfits 
are normally engaged on the design of these buildings 
and can therefore demand full professional fees for the 
design and supervision to enable them to spend the 
required time and effort to produce a quality building. 
In addition the cost of construction per unit rate is 
normally much higher and could be more than three 
times that allowed for in the first group, which obviously 
results in a much better quality of construction and 

Generally speaking therefore, this second group 
of buildings tend to be of much larger scale than the 
first, their design is more streamlined and they make 
an impressive architectural statement. They are also 
distinguished in the sense that each stands as a separate 
work surrounded by generous space and can be appreci- 
ated individually. 

Close-ups of the ground and upper storeys of the Abu Dhabi Marine 
Operating Company headquarters (jung/Brannen, Boston, USA, 1996). 
The building design involved Nader Ardalan who refers to the interior 
garden enclosure as a 'garden paradise' 


I 17 

Urban renewal 

Considering that 35 years ago the city was being 
built almost from scratch and then 15 years later 
the urban stock of buildings and infrastructure went into 
a process of total renewal, it can be said that in the past 
3.5 decades the city has been built twice over. Only a 
small percentage of the first-generation buildings remain 
standing; the rest have been completely renewed. Even 
the few remaining first-generation buildings are expected 
to be replaced in the near future. 

This phenomenal renewal of the city fabric has 
also included the reconstruction and upgrading of roads, 
sewerage, electricity, water supply and the communica- 
tion networks. The renewal and upgrading has been a 
continuous and gradual process for the last 20 years. 

The first generation of buildings in the central part 
of the city which were started in the late 1960s were 
mostly 8 to 1 2 storeys high. They were built with speed 
to accommodate the influx of the expatriate workforce 
that was being attracted to the new work opportunities 
generated by the rapid growth of wealth and economic 
activities. Limited concern was then given to detailing, 
construction materials and techniques, servicing and 
environmental control. Furthermore, construction 


The demolition of an early-modern 
building in order that it be replaced 
by a high-modern and post-modern 
tower, Hamddn Street 


Example of the earlier generation of 
buildings on Hamddn Street, many 
of which have since been pulled 
down to make room for new high- or 
post-modern multi-storey buildings 

know-how and supervision were all new commodities 
imported from abroad. The resultant buildings were 
therefore of mediocre quality but it created the city as a 
physical entity and satisfied the immediate demand. 

With the lack of sufficient building maintenance, 
and a heavy turnover of tenants as a natural result of 
the transient nature of the expatriate population, these 
buildings needed to be replaced. In the ten years or 
so since construction the return of investment of the 
majority had been paid back, which provided more reason 
to knock the buildings down and utilize the scarce land 
for a more dense occupation with higher buildings. 

The renewal of the building stock is associated with 
the changing of the planning bye-laws which allowed the 
building of higher-rise buildings than previously was 
acceptable. This change came about to satisfy the increas- 
ing demand for apartments and offices and the desire to 
utilize the limited amount of land in a denser way. This was 
coupled with the wish to give Abu Dhabi an increasingly 
modern image and with the availability of funds, which 
the Government wished to pump into the construction 
sector to keep this vital economic sector rolling. 

The first-generation buildings were thus demol- 
ished one by one and new, much higher buildings 
were built in their place. At times, and depending on the 
availability of land, some of the building plots were 
increased in size by a few metres in each direction, while 
neighbouring plots belonging to the same family were 
merged together to create one super-plot. 

The relative increase of awareness of quality 
and the availability of funds demanded better-quality 
construction. This affected the construction industry as 
a whole in that contracting companies started to grow 
larger and to consolidate themselves for bigger projects, 
and manufacturing companies had bigger markets for 
their products and thus became able to expand and 
improve them. This meant suppliers could modernize 
their trade and keep abreast with the most up-to-date 
products manufactured throughout the world. 

I 18 


On the other hand, as urban renewal continued 
rapidly and as the construction industry grew, more 
demand was generated for designers, contractors, suppliers 
and the like. This expansion was not always free of faults. 
Many small-time contractors started bidding for much 
larger jobs than they were capable of handling, and many 
new contracting outfits were established without sufficient 
financial or technical back-up, hoping to get a share of the 
growing market. On the design side, numerous offices 
sprang up, again some of them without sufficient experi- 
ence, thus affecting the quality of the resulting work. The 
same can be said about new untried products that were 
marketed taking advantage of the desire for better-quality 
and more durable buildings. Here again some products 
proved not to be particularly suitable for this part of the 
world or the type of construction techniques needed here. 

The renewal inside the super-blocks saw a change 
in the building form from the first-generation low-cost 
one- and two-storey housing into medium-rise (up to 
seven-storey) apartment buildings. The entire building 
stock in the inner super-blocks has now been renewed in 
this fashion. As a result accommodation densities within 
these areas have multiplied several-fold. This renewal is 

coupled with completely new road and infrastructure 
networks. The layout of this new development inside the 
super-blocks is also based on a grid-iron of roads and 
rows of buildings. No attempt was made to utilize the 
opportunity of changing the development form and 
land-use mix to create more interesting planning layouts. 

Urban renewal in most parts of town has caused 
physical congestion of building masses as much taller 
buildings are built too close in front of and next to 
each other. In some cases this congestion is acute and 

Oil companies and quasi-government companies 
(such as Etisalat and the Abu Dhabi National Hotel 
Company) have also contributed to the urban renewal 
by constructing major buildings either as headquarters, 
residential expansions or hotel renewals and extensions. 
As discussed earlier, the architectural standard of these 
buildings generally speaking is much better than the 
commercial quality seen elsewhere. This is because of 
the prestigious image which the clients wish to project, 
the availability of larger funds to achieve this objective 
and thus the ability to employ selected designers, con- 
tractors and manufacturers to ensure better quality work. 

Beyond the island expansion 

As the island of Abu Dhabi is almost fully utilized, 
expansion has already taken place on the mainland 
in an eastward direction across the narrow strait. The 
area between the roads extending from the two bridges 
of Musaffah and Maqta' is already fully developed as a 
low-rise residential area and community facilities and it 
is commonly known as 'the district between two bridges'. 
Attached to this area is a neighbourhood for army 
officers called the Officers' Town. Another officers' 
town which is much larger is located to the south of the 
highway leading from Musaffah Bridge eastwards. To 
the north of the highway leading from Maqta' Bridge 
eastwards light industrial development and warehousing 

have appeared. In addition and as mentioned earlier, 
medium-rise residential development has been imple- 
mented in the Musaffah area. 

To the south of the Musaffah area an expansion of 
industrial land use is currently being implemented in the 
form of an industrial city. In the area immediately to the 
south of the Umm Al Nar-Shahamah Highway a new 
township, known as Madinat Khalifa, is taking shape as all 
the basic infrastructure and roads have been completed. 
This town, which will also be allocated for low-rise 
residential development, extends all the way to al Mafraq 
and is divided by the Abu Dhabi International Airport 
Highway in two parts, Khalifa A and B. Together these two 


I 19 

sections have a size approximately equal to that of Abu 
Dhabi Island, but have a much lower overall density. This 
gives an indication of the anticipated magnitude of growth. 

Further north, the small settlement of al Shahamah 
has, in recent years, witnessed a massive development 
turning it in a short period of time into a substantial satellite 
town to Abu Dhabi. Already there are expatriates living in 
al Shahamah and commuting to Abu Dhabi, attracted by 
the relatively low rent. The time taken by road to Abu 
Dhabi from there is about half an hour. A Shahamah is also 
where nomadic tribes are being settled. Other settlements 
have been developed north of al Shahamah such as al 
Samhah on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway. 

Recently the local authorities have started work on a 
major development to the north of al Mafraq and Banl 
Yas, namely al Shamkha Town. Unlike Khalifah Town, 
where housing plots were given to local citizens to build 
their own villas, al Shamkha Town will be completely built 
by the authorities as a new town including housing and all 
the necessary infrastructure and community facilities. 

The current expansions and others planned for the 
future are indicated in the comprehensive Abu Dhabi 
development plan prepared for the Abu Dhabi Town 
Planning Department in 1990. Although the plan was 
not officially published, outline information was available 
from the Town Planning Department. 

Of the future developments, the plan indicates 
a third bridge to be located to the north of the 
Maqta' Bridge which will connect the eastern arterial 
road (Corniche al Qurm Street) to the Umm Al 
Nar-Shahamah Highway. It also indicates development 
of islands adjacent to the main Abu Dhabi Island. These 
are the islands of Sa'diyyat to the north of the main 


'Zlg-Zag' design option for a third 
bridge crossing, Abu Dhabi (Zaha 
Hadid Studio, London, 1997). The 
architects see the location of the 
new third bridge crossing as critical 
in the development and completion 
of the road system which connects 
Abu Dhabi Island to the mainland. 
Two structural principles were 
explored. The zig-zag concept was 
initially conceived as a tubular steel 
spine with out-riggers in a steel 
tubular truss. The central spine is a 
heavier system of interconnected 
same straight sections forming 
pointed arches with secondary struts 
between, which support the centre of 
the split deck arrangement 


View of a design model for a hotel 
and residential complex 

island, Haydariyat to the south and Lulu to the west. 
Development at Lulu has already started as mentioned 
earlier. The other two islands are still in the planning 
stage. Sa'diyyat Island was allocated as a free-trading 
zone and is expected to witness a major development in 
offices, housing and industrial facilities. Although initial 
steps were taken to establish a development authority 
for this island no physical development has started. 
Haydariyat on the other hand is designated for special 
residential use such as palaces but no activities have taken 
place there yet. Bridges and causeways will connect these 
two islands to Abu Dhabi Island and the mainland. 
Sa'diyyat will connect in the north to the Umm Al 
Nar-Shahamah Highway, Haydariyat in the south to the 
Musaffah industrial estate highway. In effect a full loop 
of road networks is planned to surround and serve the 
future conurbation of Greater Abu Dhabi that is rapidly 
taking shape. 


Contemporary architecture in Abu Dhabi 
Abbad Al Radi 

The town planning framework 

There is a direct link between architectural quality 
and the town planning framework. In Abu Dhabi, 
the town planning strategy has not been sufficiently 
well conceived in the context of a workable long-term 
framework for the physical, climatic and socio-cultural 
planning requirements. Consequently, the history of 
architecture in Abu Dhabi over the past thirty years has 
been governed to a considerable degree by constraints 
and consequent missed opportunities. Specific planning 
issues which have a direct impact on architectural 
quality can be objectively considered. These include town 
planning and commercial considerations and the influence 
of building life span, permanency and demography. 
The focus here is the heart of the city, the high-rise 
downtown commercial/residential section of Abu Dhabi. 
Plot sizes are generally very small in Abu Dhabi. 
The vast majority of plots are 24 x 15 metres, and these 
are followed by square plots of 24 x 24 metres and 
30x30 metres. Naturally there are some plot sizes in 
between and some which are larger, but these three 
sizes represent up to 95 per cent of plots for commercial/ 
residential multi-storey development. For multi-storey 
buildings with an average height of twenty storeys, such 
plots are indeed small and leave very little room for 
architectural manoeuvre, especially when combined with 
the additional constraints discussed later. The plots are 

also far too small to allow for economically viable 
underground parking provision. If we take such plot sizes 
in conjunction with the standard system of having 
3-12 metres separating plots, with the norm being 
approximately 3 metres, the resulting cityscape is a 
relentless vista of building after building with small 
gaps which fails to create the sense of urbanism more 
common in central city blocks elsewhere. Traditionally, 
urban areas are formed by far more expansive building 
blocks with clearer continuity; this is to a large extent 
missing in Abu Dhabi. 

The planning bye-law that allows for cantilevers of 
1.5 metres above mezzanine level not only leads to the 
awkward subdivision of a building's fagade but all too 
often has a detrimental effect on overall architectural 
quality. Cantilevers are used all around the plot to the 
maximum possible and balconies are considered a waste 
of rentable floorspace. This not only goes a long way to 
producing the unvarying and standardized buildings 
already referred to but is also a poor model in terms of 
the internal living environment and overall architectural 

Illustrations of typical commercial buildings show 
this issue and demonstrate the standard 'one step' 
silhouette which constitutes the typical Abu Dhabi 
building block. This repetitiveness in the design of 



buildings is the result of having a ground floor plus 
mezzanine as one building block with a 10-18 storey 
residential block superimposed on top. 

Such planning bye-laws need to be considered 
together with the overall commercial approach to 
architecture and buildings in general. Architecture has 
become solely a business proposition. This translates in 
architectural terms to a demand for an absolute maxi- 
mization of floorspace as permitted by town planning 
regulations. To further maximize the economic return, 
all too often the internal and external building finishes 
are of cheap quality. It should be said, however, that 
change is underway insofar as better-quality materials 
are being used in the newer generation of buildings, but 
the underlying strategic planning problems remain and 
aesthetic quality could certainly be greatly improved. 

The planning requirement for an Arab/Islamic 
image or elevational treatment of buildings is at best 
a superficial intervention and too often results in 
architectural pastiche. There is no Arab/Islamic high- 
rise architectural tradition barring the exceptional North 
Yemeni and Hadhrami tradition of buildings up to 
eight or ten storeys high. However, such architecture is 
uniquely adapted to its own specific context and is not 
necessarily appropriate for modern high-rise buildings. 
Attempts to transplant the Arab/Islamic traditions from 
low-rise, inward-looking buildings to modern high-rise, 
outward-looking buildings are invariably superficial and 
are not based on a clear set of acceptable principles. 

The detrimental effects of incorporating so-called 
Islamic features in high-rise buildings is illustrated in 
typical buildings where arches of different forms and 
sizes, including circular, flat, stepped and pointed, are 
used without compunction and can sometimes even 
be seen in the same building. In addition to arches, the 
indiscriminate use of Islamic decorative motifs and 
patterns to cover any remaining blank areas are typical. 

The transport system and parking provision in 
general have not been given sufficient importance, 
particularly the regular upgrading of roads and inter- 
sections that is necessary to cope with the steadily 
increasing traffic flows and car ownership. Short-term 
measures, however, do not result in satisfactory technical 

solutions, as long as there is an absence of a compre- 
hensive framework in the form of a carefully conceived 
transport system for the city. Growth and development 
have not been governed by a technically sound 
medium- or long-term strategy, and herein lies the crux 
of the problem. 

Parking provision consists of ad hoc parking around 
buildings, wherever space permits. This results in a 
generally poor environmental context, as the visual effect 
of a mass of vehicles surrounding tall urban structures 
leaves little room for a pleasurable and expansive 
pedestrian environment. Furthermore, the result is a 
gross undersupply of parking requirements, with demand 
being partially catered for by illegal parking. Parking 
structures have been proposed in order to alleviate this 
situation and some are already under construction, but 
they fail to address the real problem. 

The problem of parking space could be solved and 
the architectural quality of buildings would be improved 
if building plots were increased to a size that was 
large enough for a number of basement parking levels. A 
relatively simple exercise in land-use management proves 
that with larger plots the same floorspace can be achieved 
with lower building heights and with a greatly improved 
pedestrian environment. The city must also serve people, 
not just the car. 

It is evident that existing town planning regulations 
are not conducive to high-quality architecture, and the 
question of determining an architectural style that 
belongs to the region is a complex issue which requires 
considerable courage and inventiveness at both the plan- 
ning level and the specifically architectural level. These 
micro and macro issues must be dealt with together as 
they are inextricably interconnected. Only then can we 
reach a meaningful vernacular for architecture that could 
replace the existing subjective and essentially superficial 


Commercial and 
economic considerations 

There is little incentive in Abu Dhabi to construct 
buildings that last. Building plots are often a 
gift from the Government, with 100 per cent funding at 
negligible interest, and a good portion of the rent is 
passed on to the owners pending the return of the loan, 
often achieved within six or seven years. The aim of 
getting a financial return on government investment in 
the least time possible leads to a short-term outlook, and 
consequently the development and growth of the central 
city becomes solely a business proposition. 

The phenomenal wealth of the UAE, which has oil 
reserves that are sufficient for well over one hundred 
years, has engendered an attitude which places little 
emphasis on the permanency of buildings. Most of the 
existing twenty-storey buildings have replaced earlier 
5-7 storey buildings on the same plot, sometimes in as 
short a time span as ten years. The equitable system of 
distributing the wealth of the country to nationals 
through what is effectively the donation of buildings 
has, though exemplary, shown a considerable lack of 
foresight. The primary consideration of developing and 
distributing wealth within the nation has been under- 
taken with haste, and it is evident that this has not been 
conducive to the creation of quality architecture. 

Many of the high-rise apartment buildings which 
dominate the city are owned by nationals, but are seldom 
lived in by nationals. They are built instead to house the 
majority expatriate community, who inevitably lack a 
sense of permanency in Abu Dhabi. There is no point of 
reference or social criteria influencing the architecture: 
socio-cultural norms are not in tandem and are not 
reflected in physical form or the environment. None of 
this is conducive to the creation of 'architectural roots'. 

The nature of the architectural profession in Abu 
Dhabi has in itself had a major impact on the quality of 
development. From the early days, the profession has 
comprised people from very different backgrounds and 

nationalities who have often lacked knowledge of the 
local heritage and have had to work without correct or 
effective planning regulations and cultural guidance. The 
result was and remains an experimental field, often 
marked with tortuous attempts to break from existing 
norms. The low fee scales applied in Abu Dhabi of 4 per 
cent for commercial buildings has not helped to improve 
either the quality of the architects or the architecture. 
However, over the past ten years there has been some 
improvement in the profession and this is becoming 
evident in some of the high-quality buildings recently 
constructed or currently under construction. 

This discussion represents an overview of what 
I perceive to be the main constraints on architectural 
quality and missed opportunities, and is intended to be 
a frank and honest expose of the facts. Mistakes have 
been made in the past and it is my hope that an open 
discussion of them will encourage an improvement in the 
next generation of architectural work. In the long term, 
a review of the urban-planning framework is an absolute 
prerequisite and will in itself dictate a far higher standard 
of development. The following section looks at examples 
of fairly recent contemporary architecture in Abu Dhabi. 



The new architecture 

The country and its people have advanced rapidly 
and are now beginning to demand much better 
buildings. This is particularly the case with government 
or semi-government-related clients who have a long- 
term view and are now aware of what good, or certainly 
better, architecture is, and are prepared to pay for it. In 
this section I have undertaken a review of some examples 
of contemporary architecture, with particular emphasis 
on government buildings. These are not subject to quite 
the same pressures and constraints described earlier, 
which apply mainly to commercial and residential build- 
ings. However, government buildings represent a very 
small percentage of buildings in Abu Dhabi, whereas 
commercial and residential ones represent the majority 
and give Abu Dhabi its particular image. 

Most of the buildings in this selection have been the 
subject of architectural competitions. However, my 
intention is to refrain from subjective speculation on what 
is good or bad architecture, and rather concentrate on 
those projects which can be described fairly objectively as 
displaying aspects of good architectural practice. Specific 
positive or negative features or missed opportunities are 
also highlighted. 

The buildings under review for Abu Dhabi fall into 
the following categories: buildings for public use, hotels, 
office buildings (all publicly/semi-publicly owned), 
special projects and commercial/residential buildings. 

Cultural Foundation 

This is one of the first building complexes in Abu 
Dhabi which can be described as being contempor- 
ary. It was designed by The Architects Collaborative 
(TAC) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA in 1977 and 
completed in March 1981 , for the Abu Dhabi Cultural 
Foundation, a government body. It is located on a unique 
and very large site in central Abu Dhabi which also 
contains Qasr al-Husn, the only remaining traditional 
building in Abu Dhabi; previously the Ruler's residence 
and office, it now operates as the Documentation and 

Research Centre. This Cultural Foundation complex 
is successful and hosts a range of cultural events such as 
concerts, films, exhibitions, talks and lectures, educational 
workshops and classes and children's events. 

The complex has three main components: the 
national library, the cultural centre (the galleries, lecture 
halls, exhibition areas) (known as the National Library 
and Cultural Centre) and the 1,000-seat auditorium. 
There is also a children's library on the ground floor. 
These are all located adjacent to one another within 
a single rectangular block. The scheme is successful 
architecturally and the complex can be described as 
using the local vernacular idiom with its great arched 
arcades, internal three-storey atria and small-scale 
arched fenestration on the upper levels. The dominant 
features of the building are the massive white concrete 
walls and the use of intricate arabesque tiles along the 
arcades. This gives the scheme a certain Arab/Islamic 
character without descending into pastiche. The affinity 
with the Middle East in terms of design can be traced 
back to TAC's design roots in the area: in particular they 
were responsible for designing a major master plan plus 
numerous buildings for the Baghdad University Campus 
in the 1950s and 1960s. 

The main design concern in the Cultural Foun- 
dation complex is that the external arcades, which are 
abundant in the front courts, do not form a fully identifi- 
able and functional circulation network connecting the 
individual buildings to one another, which would give 
the arcades a raison d'etre. Instead the arcades are a 
somewhat abstract adjunct in front of a large monolithic 
complex which could perhaps have been divided into 
three main components interconnected by arcades and 
courtyards in order to form a more meaningful whole. 



The Cultural Foundation, National Library and Cultural Centre: site plan 

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The Cultural Foundation, National 
Library and Cultural Centre: 
elevations; south-east, south-west 
and north-east 


The Cultural Foundation, National 
Library and Cultural Centre: 
Second-floor plan 


The Cultural Foundation, National 
Library and Cultural Centre: 
details of the white fair-faced 
concrete facade. The rendering of 
the exterior is mastered by a line of 
discreet and impressive design that 
has not been matched in style and 



The Cultural Foundation, National 
Library and Cultural Centre: 
First-floor plan 

Bottom left and right 

Views of the entrance arcade and 
arches opening onto the courtyard. 
Decorative geometric patterns adorn 
the floors and panels lining the 
arches, and are finished in hand- 
painted ceramic tiles based on the 
square and eight-pointed star motif 


Situated on a prominent site, 
opposite the Grand Mosque and 
adjacent to the old fort and palace, 
this is a view of the main off-street 
entrance facade, adjacent to the 
parking area. The austerity of the 
openings and minimalist design of 
the building are attractive yet 



Central Meat, Fish, Fruit and 
Vegetable Market 

The Abu Dhabi Municipality owns and runs the 
Central Meat, Fish, Fruit and Vegetable Market. 
It was designed by Planar, Abu Dhabi, together with 
Skaarup andjespersen, of Copenhagen, Denmark, who 
were involved at the initial stages only. The project was 
completed in 1992. 

In keeping with the instructions of HH Shaykh 
Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, domes were incorporated 
into each atrium. In addition, the original floor plan, 
which subdivided the ground floor into meat, fish, fruit 
and vegetable markets and designated the first floor for 
household goods, was changed to having the ground 
floor devoted equally to meat and fish markets and the 
first floor solely used for the fruit and vegetable markets. 
As a result, the internal functioning of this ground and 
first floor plan is not ideal - fruit and vegetable markets 
demand large deliveries, and lead to bulk refuse, with 
generally greater and more regular bulk purchasing 
by customers than in meat and fish markets. In design 
terms this entailed substantial internal changes: a major 
ramp was added together with numerous service lifts and 
escalators to cater for the requirements of the first floor. 

The client wanted an Arab/Islamic architectural 
treatment and for the suq to be designed in keeping 
internally with traditional Arab markets. The architects 
were, however, keen to avoid the pastiche Islamic suq 



Panoramic view of the Central 
Meat, Fish, Fruit and Vegetable 

Above right and right 

Closer view showing the entrance to 
the market 




Arcades and archirectural massing of the Central Meat, 
Fish, Fruit and Vegetable Market 

which predominates in the Gulf. The design consists of 
a number of barrel-vaulted sUq malls organized in a geo- 
metric plan form; these linear malls form the numerous 
entrances to the market and meet in a central atrium. 
The same basic sUq unit centred around an atrium is 
repeated twice in a geometric manner. The use of external 
arcades all around provides shaded walkways and weather 
protection, and internal arcades on the first floor serve 
the shops. 

The massive external concrete walls, with embedded 
lines forming geometric patterns and single turquoise 
tiles at the junctions of these lines, enhance the feeling of 
regional vernacular but with a distinctly modern spirit. 
The use of prefabricated concrete panels is extensive in 
the suq, and the liberal use of tiles in the interior, together 
with the other features, produces a design that is in 
keeping with Arab/Islamic architectural traditions. 

Khaldeya Cooperative Society Building 

This building represents one of the very few private 
shopping mall structures in Abu Dhabi. It was 
designed by Planar, Abu Dhabi and completed in 1996. 
The project takes the essentially Western phenomenon 
of the mall/department store and adapts it to suit the 
local environment, without undermining any functional 


Khaldeya Cooperative Society Building: entrance detail 



requirements and without resorting to Islamic pastiche. 
It comprises a relatively small three-storey building, with 
the ground floor originally allotted to the Khaldeya 
Cooperative Society supermarket and the remainder 
leased. As it transpired, the entire building was leased to 
a single operator who turned it into what is effectively a 
single large department store with an internal ground- 
floor supermarket. This indicates the level of built-in 
flexibility of the project which was designed to have 
internal suq streets on the mezzanine and first floors and 
which were subsequently successfully converted to an 
open-plan department store. 

The design concept revolves around a diagonally 
accessed mall with an adjacent atrium around which the 
building functions. The atrium and diagonal mall are 
effectively linked so that they open onto each other 
and share a frame roof which has a sufficient number of 
pyramid skylights to provide natural light, whilst avoiding 
excessive heat-gain. The external treatment of the build- 
ing is one of contrasts: it combines a blend of grooved 
geometric fines, small-scale arched fenestration, stepped 
lines and restrained north-facing glass curtain walling. 
The architectural idiom is underpinned by geometric 
principles that run throughout the project, and the 
end product may be described as modern vernacular 
architecture appropriate to the region. 

Top and above 

Details of the facade and an 
interior view of the lightweight 
truss roof structure 


Khaldeya Cooperative Society 
building: diagonal axis and 



Hotel Intercontinental 

Built in 1979 in a relatively secluded part of the 
Island, this extremely luxurious hotel, designed 
by Benjamin Thompson and Associates of Cambridge, 
Mass., USA, is possibly the first integrated hotel/leisure 
complex which places equal emphasis on the external 
areas (including landscaping, marina, beach) and the 
internal (the hotel rooms, conference and banqueting 
facilities). It was commissioned by the government of 
Abu Dhabi in order to accommodate the seven heads of 
member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (leaders 
of some of the wealthiest nations in the world) during 
summits. The hotel has over 300 deluxe suites, the 
extremely luxurious royal suites and a plethora of 
banqueting facilities and conference halls. It is evident that 
no expense was spared, especially in the internal finishes. 
From a design point of view, there are a number of 
interesting aspects. The exterior of the building is 
straight-forward and subdued and belongs to the 
international architectural style of the period, but its 
interiors have a very different feel. This is particularly 
the case in the public areas, which are resplendent with 
an abundance of rich arabesque. This dual personality is 
surprising as the expectation in a building of this nature is 
for the luxurious interior to be reflected on the exterior. 
Other areas of interest are found in the marina and 
general landscaping, which are very well designed. The 
entrance is located at the top of an artificial hill that gives 
Abu Dhabi its only distinctive land contour, and together 
the external grounds and marina give the hotel a very 
special atmosphere. 

Forte Grand Hotel 

This five-star hotel is unlike the Intercontinental 
in that it is located in the commercial heart of the 
city and is very much a businessman's hotel. Designed 
conceptually by a well-known architect, Arthur Erickson 
of Vancouver, Canada, the building was completed 
in 1993 and has 31 floors. There is no doubt that the 
building is an architectural statement with its very hard 
and closed granite-faced rear facade contrasting with 
the completely curtain-walled sea view. Because of its 
very particular curved-plan form, the building effectively 


Close-up of the Hotel Intercontinental' s seaside facade 

has only two fagades. The applicability of full curtain 
walling in this region is questionable. It certainly looks 
aesthetically pleasing in this building, particularly when 
seen with the strongly contrasting closed rear fagade, 
but can it be considered an appropriate architectural 
solution for this part of the world? At the top the 
parapets curve upwards, terminating the building nicely. 
However, the rotating restaurant sits uncomfortably 
above, and is more akin to a foreign body in an otherwise 
interesting design. 

There are two eight-storey satellite towers which 
have a triangular-plan form and accommodate common 
facilities. Again the contrast of glass curtain wall and 
hard granite walls is striking. All rooms have a sea view 




The Forte Grand Hotel. The hotel design has all the guest rooms on the sea 
facade, with the service areas at the back. The revolving disc crowning the 
rooftop of the tower is a restaurant 

as the plan has a single-access corridor format. As 
attractive as this concept may be, it reduces the hotel's 
economic viability considerably. It must be said that the 
interior functioning of the building as a hotel is not par- 
ticularly good, especially in terms of common facilities 
and servicing aspects. The main kitchens are located on 
the fifth floor, with all the inherent servicing problems. 
There is a distinct shortage of other service-related 
spaces such as laundry, stores and staff changing rooms, 
in addition to the absence of an essential requirement for 
a five-star hotel - namely a banqueting hall. Though 
striking from the point of view of external architectural 
form, the hotel cannot be said to be similarly successful 
from an economic or functional viewpoint. 

Etisalat Headquarters Building 

his project was awarded to architect Arthur Erickson 
of Vancouver, Canada, and was completed in 
November 1992. The building contains the headquarters 
for Etisalat, the telecommunications company of the 
Emirates, and consists of a 24-storey office tower with an 
adjacent parking structure for 200 cars. 

The first three levels of the tower, which are 
interconnected by an atrium space, are open to the 
public. The ground floor features a museum that is 
intended to illustrate the history and development of 
telecommunications from the invention of the telegraph 
to modern-day satellite systems. From the ground floor, 
two sets of escalators provide public access to the two 
levels above, where the counters for payment of bills and 
information concerning telephone systems are located. 
All the office levels above are for the private use of the 
company to house its various departments. The only 
exception to this is the fifth level, which is occupied 
by a small 200-seat auditorium for lectures and small 
conferences. The fifth level is also linked to the top of the 
parking structure, which accommodates employees' 
amenities including a kitchen and cafe, a games room 
and a prayer room. 




The Etisalat Headquarters. Replicas of this building, much admired locally, 
including the gigantic golf ball sphere placed on top, appear in other cities such 
as Dubai and Ra's al Khaymah 


View of the Union National Bank Head Office Building 

The external envelope of the building is made of 
granite cladding and green-tinted mirror glass arranged 
in a faceted curtain wall. The pair of tall external 
columns, the main feature of the fagade, are clad in 
aluminium. The external image of the building is warm 
and elegant, but the internal arrangement is slightly less 
satisfactory. This is mainly due to the internal office 
partitioning system, which lacks clear and sensible 
subdivisions of fioorspace between open-plan office areas 
and private offices, to the detriment of the open-plan 
areas. In this context the faceted curtain wall creates 
awkward spaces. In addition, the visitor passenger-lift 

lobbies are awkwardly juxtaposed with the office areas 
they serve. 

At the top of the building, a large 2 2 -metre diameter 
sphere of Teflon-coated material houses a complex 
array of parabolic dishes and antenna for Etisalat's 
telecommunications needs. This sphere is illuminated at 
night and has become a city landmark in Abu Dhabi. 

Union National Bank Head Office Building 

This building represents one of the few purpose- 
built office buildings of a high quality. Designed by 
Carlos Ott, famous as the winner of the Bastille Opera 



House competition, and completed in November 1994, 
it consists of two basement car parking levels, an 
interconnected ground- and mezzanine-level bank, 
and 14 typical open-plan office floors, the thirteenth 
and fourteenth floors being smaller in area. The bank 
occupies all floors up to the sixth inclusive, with the 
remaining floors being let. This system operates by 
having an additional side entrance with a two-lift core 
which only serves the upper floors, for use by the 
tenants. The bank can expand upwards by simply 
controlling lift-door openings, thereby allowing for 
internal flexibility in use. 

The building is fairly typical of the standard 
international style of office buildings, and as such it could 
be located anywhere in the world. The plan form is very 
effective, with the vertical core located on one side to 
service open-plan office floors. Externally the building 
is finished with a granite frame within which sits a 
cantilevered curtain wall of double glazing and aluminium 
panels. The internal finishes are of an equally high 
standard. In comparing such buildings to the standard 
commercial ones in Abu Dhabi, it must be borne in 
mind that the square metre costs in these high-quality, 
prestigious 'intelligent' office buildings are about twice 
the cost of standard commercial buildings. 

Shaykh Saif Bin Muhammad Bin Butti 

The architects were asked to design this multi-storey 
building, completed in 1991, with an Arab/Islamic 
image in mind. In that there is no historical precedent for 
such buildings in Arab/Islamic cultures, the architects, 
Planar of Abu Dhabi, tried to create a design that would 
avoid Islamic pastiche. The design in plan form com- 
prises two triangles separated by a linear circulation link. 
The philosophy adopted for the fagade was first to break 
up the height visually so as to avoid monotony by having 
the image of three building blocks of different heights 
(six, three and four storeys) in visual terms one on top 
of the other with a separating floor in between. These 
blocks are cantilevered out to enhance this image, and 
the use of mashrabiyyah ensures shading while enhancing 
the image of the building as belonging to the region. 


Shaykh Saif Bin Muhammad Bin 
Butti Building: massing, framing 
and division into 'three buildings' 


Overview illustration: diagonal 
axis, pyramids, pre-cast pattern 
and sea view 


The commercial nature of the project greatly 
limited the scope of materials used, resulting in a painted 
frame as opposed to the intended granite finish. 
Extensive use of white concrete pre-cast panels and GRC 
lattice-work was used in the external cladding. This 
allowed for repetitive geometric patterns embossed 
in the white concrete panels, giving the building its 
individual character. The plant on the roof was hidden 
within two pyramidal structures, which also reflect the 
twin triangular plan form. The original intention was to 
have shaded balconies, providing external 'gardens in the 
sky' all around. This approach reduces internal glare and 
provides much-needed shading to the internal glazing, 
thereby increasing natural comfort while reducing 
the cooling load for air-conditioning. This full extra 
skin, while reduced somewhat by the commercial dictates 
of additional space requirements, still features in a 
substantial part of the plan. 

Raisa Bint Darwish Building 

This building designed by Planar, Abu Dhabi, and 
completed in 1991 had very severe commercial 
and budgetary constraints, with the client requiring five 
flats per floor on a plot measuring 24 x 24 metres (two 
3 -bedroom flats plus three 2 -bedroom flats). This resulted 
in small flats, and in keeping with the highly commercial 
nature of most projects in Abu Dhabi, the client required 
the floorspace to be maximized to the extent allowed by 
the bye-laws. This would have resulted in a 1.5-metre 
cantilever from the first floor up, thereby greatly limiting 
design quality. In actual fact, as can be seen, the client 
was persuaded to allow for a framing of the structure 
within which the cantilevered portion rests, thereby 
improving on the architectural image. However, balcony 
floorspace, which acts as a second skin and is an ideal tool 
against the harsh climate, was unfortunately greatly 
reduced for the same commercial reasons. This approach 
would not only improve the microclimate but also the 
internal environment. 

The use of two triangles in plan form was utilized to 
define the diagonal axis towards the main city square and 
the sea. Extensive use of pre-cast white concrete external 
panels were used with a repetitive square-based pattern 


Raisa Bint Darwish Building: detail of white concrete pre-cast panels and 


Overall massing and diagonal entrance 




Raisa Bint Darwish Building: 
external details 


External details 

of grainy diagonal lines in alternating directions. The use 
of this pattern and texture gives the building a local 
vernacular feel. The colours white and off-white were 
used throughout, with white concrete, off-white tiling 
and white aluminium. The plant is hidden behind a 
high roof-parapet wall forming a backdrop to a number 
of free-standing columns with capitals which extend 
the structural members beyond the roof as a purely 
archi-tectural feature. 

Baynunah Tower 

his building is, to date, the tallest residential tower in 
the region. Designed by Arkan, Abu Dhabi, the 
building was completed in 1995. It is composed of three 
tower blocks of 25, 31 and 37 storeys respectively, which 
surround a central circulation shaft that rises up to 42 
storeys. The architects' intention in this massing was to 
give the building dynamism when viewed from different 
angles. The building has six floors of parking from ground 
level up and contains a small hotel at the lower levels 
in the four floors above the parking area, with the 
remaining residential levels located above. The sports 
club (swimming pool, health club) is located on Level 29. 

The plan form is not straightforward and is perhaps 
difficult to fully comprehend with many different angles 
to give individual identity to the various tower blocks. 
This is probably partly due to the awkward site. The 
main body of the tower is completely clad in glass except 
for a series of circular staircase towers which are clad in 
white GRC, which is excessively glossy. The question of 
applicability of full curtain walling in buildings in this 
part of the world is one that recurs. Clients often demand 
this treatment in order to produce what is felt to be a 
modern building, although it is the view of the author 
that curtain walling should be used with care in this 
region and generally should not be used for residential 
buildings. This building dominates the Abu Dhabi 

Internally, the building is generally well designed in 
terms of the atrium, overall circulation space in the hotel 
and privacy. The hotel rooms are well designed and the 
sea view is enthralling, when one looks down from the 



Rabdan Complex 

This major project, completed in 1998, is one of 
the largest commercial/residential projects in Abu 
Dhabi, costing about Dirhams 245 million. The project 
was designed by Carlos Ott, with detailed engineering 
and supervision by Dewan, Abu Dhabi. 

The project consists of three residential towers 
with alternating curved fagades resting on a ground- and 
first-floor podium that comprises two levels of shopping 
with 6,000 square metres of retail floorspace. There are 
also two basement levels of car parking for approximately 
280 cars. This project has very distinctive architectural 
features and certainly has architectural quality with its 
series of curved fagades. The earlier discourse on the 
highly questionable applicability of curtain-wall glazing 
to residential towers remains at issue. Although the 
extensive curtain-wall glazing set off against solid 
granite-faced fagades is in principle aesthetically pleasing, 
an impression of excess remains in this scheme with its 
abundance of glazed and highly reflective curtain walls. 
The granite fagades dominate the external image, and are 
put together in a wide variety of different curves, both 
horizontally and vertically, in the three towers. There is 
insufficient car parking in this highly congested area, 
especially for potential shoppers and visitors. 


Baynunah Tower: externa] details 
showing the cladding and the 
cylindrical towers in white 
geometric tile panels, with a 
repeated pattern based on the 
eight-point star. A brass grille in 
the same pattern provides filtered 
lighting. The entire building's 
facade is encased in deep-blue 
reflective glass. A subtle 
interpretation of the Islamic 
squinch forms an interesting 
movement, breaking the surface of 
the corner edge 


The Rabdan Centre, a commercial 
complex of two adjacent towers 
under construction. Located 
adjacent to the Etisalat 
Headquarters (Carlos Ott, 1998) 




Talal M. Abdullah 1 

Mass housing and changes in 
settlement patterns 

Since the 1970s and the establishment of the oil 
economy, the government's policy of investing 
revenue in urbanization has resulted in the construction 
of extensive urban housing projects. But during work 
on government-sponsored town planning initiatives, 
including the preparation of detailed local plans for 
different parts of the city of al 'Ayn, the writer has 
become aware of a number of issues influencing the way 
in which an architectural approach is formulated. 

In the first place there is the difficulty of evolving a 
brief to give to an architect who may not be familiar 
with the local architectural vocabulary, especially if they 
are foreign, since many architects working in the United 
Arab Emirates are expatriates. Then there is the question 
of deciding on appropriate allocations of space: how 
large the rooms should be, and how they match both the 
client's expectations and his actual requirements. Again, 
these are issues of which the designer may have little 
understanding. What he does have, however, are the 
tools, the architectural vocabulary and expertise for 
turning the brief into a reality, translating the design 
from paper to construction. But it is during this process 
that the lack of a common language between architect 
and client becomes apparent, and problems tend to 

The client lacks the architect's sensitivity for the 
built environment, but has a good understanding of his 
own needs and the measures he deems appropriate to 
meet them. For example, he may have a very good idea 
of how the internal circulation of the house should work 
in general terms; but, on the other hand, he probably will 
not be capable of envisaging the precise relationship 
of corridors and transitional spaces, open or closed 
lobbies, which is the architect's responsibility. Since close 
cooperation between the two parties cannot always be 
achieved, the building work tends to suffer during the 
implementation stages. 

One of the problems is that, in the case of govern- 
mental projects, particularly social housing schemes, the 
departments involved in putting together the design 
briefs and competition invitations are not precise enough 
about the design vocabulary to be used. As a result, the 
mass housing built for urban locations looks the same as 
housing built in the city outskirts, or even in the desert, 
even though the design criteria are very different; for 
example, climatic conditions, the need for outbuildings 
to house animals, and different uses of open and covered 
spaces. The other problem is that of the architect having 
a different cultural background which is not necessarily 
sympathetic to that of the groups he is designing for. 



Since no research into the requirements of the locals 
is carried out, we end up with designs which are far 
from ideal, and the problems continue. Requests for 
alterations are inevitably made within a few months of a 
house being completed and handed over to the client, 
and the work will probably start before the end of the 
first year of occupation. Complaints usually concern 
either shortage of space, the style of the architecture, 
height of boundary walls and gates, or the location of the 
reception room, kitchen or bathroom. 

These are the issues which were investigated by 
the study of 1,200 low-cost government houses in al 
Markhaniyyah. 2 During the course of this research 
a questionnaire was prepared to be filled out by occu- 
pants, the premises were photographed and surveyed, 
and all the applications for alterations received by the 
Municipal Engineering Department were analysed. For 
instance, someone might request permission to build a 
new kitchen, even though a kitchen has already been 
provided, because he feels the location of the kitchen at 
the front of the house is wrong. In fact this layout is a big 
change for a person coming from a rural or non-urban 
environment. It would be better if prospective occupants 
could be interviewed in advance to ascertain their 
needs more precisely. For example, it might be more 
appropriate to design kitchens detached from the house, 
due to the nature of preparing food and cooking on a 
large scale. This is not only a more hygienic arrange- 
ment, which helps to disperse cooking smells, but it also 
provides a degree of separation which respects the privacy 
of the house, since most of the cooking is carried out by 
maids and cooks who are not actually part of the family. 
These then are particular social conventions which 
the architect needs to be aware of, and which make an 
open-plan design approach inappropriate and inefficient. 

The question is whether the client should be 
expected to adapt to the new environment or whether he 
should be allowed to change it. Most often he will do the 
latter, since it is more difficult to change one's customs 
and expectations. This will happen gradually over 
time, so that by the second or third generation occupants 
are accustomed to the urban environment, but when 
the houses are first built it is quite common to see tents 

constructed on heaps of sand outside to serve as 
a traditional external winter majlis where passers-by, 
neighbours and friends can be received. This practice 
could be incorporated into the design of the houses to 
form an interesting feature, and some architects have 
started to take it into account by providing a dakkah, or 
elevated platform, at the front of the house, supporting a 
wood or metal frame to enable a tent or bayt sha l ar to 
be erected in winter and removed in summer when it is 
hot. Al 'Ayn has a pleasant climate during the summer 
nights, dry and free of humidity, and people enjoy 
sitting outside. The traditional concepts of the liwan 
and colonnaded arcade were a response to these climatic 
conditions, and provided an alternative living space to 
the enclosed interiors, allowing enjoyment of the fresh 
air and sunshine. 

One of the reasons for difficulties in adjusting to 
the urban environment is that many people come to the 
city from nomadic settlements, where shelters are no 
more than a dii'un or l arish made out of sa l f al nakhil 
(woven panels of palm fronds), or sometimes a tent with 
a hatush around it, which were never grouped close 
together. The badu tribes of al 'Ayn, such as the Awamir 
and Manaslr, lived in tents rather than the Hshshah (while 
the people who lived near the palm groves in the 
oasis made light, portable l arlsh dwellings out of palm 
fronds). When these people move from a totally Bedouin 
environment, with its inherent freedom of movement, to 
a highly structured urban environment of roads, schools, 
services and infrastructure, the transition has to be 
carefully considered if the alterations to houses which are 
currently demanded are to be avoided. 

Another reason why problems occur is the difficulty 
of involving the end-user, the client, in the process, 
partly because of the speed with which housing projects 
initially had to be constructed in order to settle large 
numbers of people: what we might call 'quantity-led 
planning'. This must be replaced by 'quality-led' planning, 
based on a sensitive response to the requirements of 
inhabitants, which have of course changed since the first 
housing prototypes were developed and constructed 
nearly thirty years ago. Today's society is very different: 
people in the Emirates operate through mobile phones 



and travel to the US and Europe, while the satellite dish 
and television have dramatically added to the amount of 
information already made accessible by magazines and 
other forms of printed media. However, the process of 
socio-cultural transformation has not necessarily kept 
pace with these developments, and this makes the task 
of designing houses a delicate one. 

This problem was addressed in a pilot project 
conducted in the al 'Ayn Town Planning Department, 
which started by analysing the alterations requested and 
using the results as a basis for a new design programme. It 
was concluded that the number of rooms provided has 
to be a realistic reflection of local expectations, and not 
simply conform to the standards applied to low-cost 
housing in other countries - especially when the resources 
in this country are vast in relation to the small size of the 
population. Here the extended family unit is quite large, 
and the birth rate is generally high, so each family may 
have seven or eight members. Clearly, then, the two- or 
three-bedroom model of low-cost housing is inadequate, 
and at least five or six rooms should be provided. In 
addition to these rooms, there must be a majlis area set 
apart so that guests can come and go without affecting 
the rest of the household. This area includes separate 
reception and dining rooms, with an independent 
entrance from the main house or villa containing the 
private family living spaces, bedrooms and facilities. 

The layout should also include a llwan type of 
terrace, a private entrance to the house independent of 
the majlis, and segregated service quarters. In other words, 
the building unit is broken down into three constituent 
parts: the service quarters, including the kitchen, washing 
and laundry room, store, and maid's room; the villa with 
the bedrooms, bathrooms and hall; and the majlis. In 
addition there is a garage incorporating accommodation 
for the family's driver. This organizational structure 
was used to generate new prototypes constructed in the 
districts of al Maqam and al Khaznah in al 'Ayn, and they 
were considered highly successful, with a reduction of 
requests for alteration works from 90 per cent to a very 
small number. The architects involved were also asked 
to design for possible future expansion, so that this could 
be easily achieved within the parameters of the plan if 

the occupants were to request an enlargement of the 

The dilemma we face now is the size of the 
building plot. As planners we would suggest that a plot 
of about 30 x 30 metres is quite a reasonable size, 
certainly by international standards, or even by those 
of other Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Bahrain, or 
in Dubai. In al Ayn, however, the minimum size of a 
privately owned plot is 60 x 60 metres, 3,600 square 
metres in an urban area with direct access to a street 
network and infrastructure (electricity, sewerage, drainage 
and telecommunications). This is nevertheless con- 
sidered small by owners, who have previously lived in the 
expanse of the desert, with no denning boundaries except 
the horizon and the sky. This prompted us to allocate 
plots of 60 x 90 metres and 90 x 90 metres for a time, 
until we charted the horizontal growth for the city and 
discovered that in 1990 we had already hit the urban 
boundaries that should not have been reached till 2000. 
In the 1990-95 period we had reached the post-2000 
zone within the urban boundaries designated for private 
residential development as opposed to government 
housing. This was obviously the result of the large 
plot allocation precipitated by a government policy 
of giving free land and subsidized building loans to 
citizens in order to facilitate the process of settlement 
and urbanization. The citizen is also given the option of 
returning the government-owned house he is granted 
back to the government, in exchange for its value in 
cash which he can then use to build his own residence 
privately. These generous measures were implemented 
in order to encourage people to move to the city, urbanize 
and share in the wealth of the post-oil era. 

The plot size was finally fixed at 60 x 60 metres 
which helped to contain the horizontal expansion of the 
city, and the corresponding need for high investment in 
infrastructure. The first generation of urban settlers did 
not respond well to the constraints of living on 60 x 60 
metres of land, and asked for larger plots of 90 x 90 
metres, then up to 90 x 120 metres, and even larger areas. 
There was a feeling that the perimeter wall surrounding 
the property should not obstruct the inhabitants' views 
into the distance. There was also a strong preference for 



the colonnaded walkway or arcade known as the liwan, or 
a terrace, which could be used in the evenings, afternoons 
and mornings for breakfast instead of the expensively 
furnished, enclosed majlis. 

The second generation, which has grown up with 
air-conditioning, television and cars, has found the 60 x 
60 metres plot size more acceptable. However, when 
we were evaluating new villa designs we found that the 
ideal dimensions for a bedroom could be up to 7 x 10 
metres. A room of 5 x 5 metres, which in the UK may be 
considered a fairly good size, is only considered adequate 
for a child's room. A master bedroom has to measure 
between 42 and 49 square metres at the least. This shows 
how strongly the nomadic origins of the inhabitants 
influence their response to the urban environment, 
especially in producing a sense of confinement. There 
has been an improvement in space standards in housing 
projects, sometimes through provision of larger court- 
yard areas, but the first generation complained bitterly 
about the restriction, and the close proximity of adjacent 
houses, requesting houses not to be constructed with 
shared party walls, but with spaces in between. Despite 
close tribal ties, territorial claims to the land had to be 
well defined and protected by the boundary wall. 

The other dilemma we have faced is the develop- 
ment of architectural style in the UAE. A committee 
for the preservation of architectural character was 
formed by the Al Ayn Municipality and Town Planning 
Department in 1987, after a decree issued by Shaykh 
Zayed in 1985, making it clear that no building permits 
would be granted unless the design could be related to 
the heritage of the Gulf area and of the Islamic and Arab 
traditions.' The modern architecture of the Emirates, 
built with functional modern materials and construction 
technology, was designed to express the development 
and vast material resources of the country, and had 
little connection with the local architectural vocabulary. 
Unfortunately this was most commonly represented by 
the use of arches, domes and vaults, which actually 
occur rarely in the history of architecture in the Gulf. 
There are other elements which are more typical of the 
architecture of the Gulf such as blind walls, courtyards, 
arcades, and the friezes at second-floor level. But there 

are also differences between the buildings of the interior 
and those on the coast, in terms of the materials used 
and architectural character. In Najd, Saudi Arabia, 
and Bahrain, various initiatives have been taken in 
developing a vernacular language of architecture, and we 
hope that the same effort to formulate an architectural 
style that is appropriate for the UAE will be made by 
local architects here, instead of each practising in line 
with his own school of architecture. 

Dr Makiya has carried out some research into 
the characteristics of the coastal architecture of the 
country, particularly in the area around Dubai, and 
some local architects have expressed interest in the 
evolvement of traditional architecture. Otherwise there 
has been little work in this field to date, and Emirates 
society has had to endure the wholesale introduction of 
the International Style into the urban environment. 
On the Abu Dhabi Corniche, for example, enormous 
sums have been invested in the construction of modern 
high-rise buildings. Although some of the architecture 
is interesting in its own terms, it has no relationship to 
local social or cultural conditions and could, indeed, be 
located anywhere in the world. By contrast, the Cultural 
Foundation (designed by The Architects Collaborative, 
TAC), adjacent to Qasr al Husn in Abu Dhabi, is clearly 
a serious attempt at developing a different approach 
which is respectful of the heritage of the Emirates. 
Architects should acknowledge their responsibility 
for achieving this, rather than leaving it to the official 
government departments which issue the building 
permits. The architect should be able to achieve a 
synthesis of the appropriate architectural vocabulary for 
the urban environment in which he is working. 

It is sometimes argued that the architectural 
heritage in the UAE is not particularly rich to begin 
with, due to the relatively short history of urbanization 
here, but there are plenty of sources of inspiration in the 
historic forts {hum), towers, old mosques, and vernacular 
houses of Dubai, Sharjah, or Ra's al Khaymah. Architects 
are not being asked to duplicate or imitate these buildings 
from the past, but to develop their typical characteristics 
in a new spirit. In order to foster such an approach 
among local architects, and increase awareness of the 



built environment amongst the public and government 
officers, a course in local architectural culture has been set 
up at the university. This initiative must also be pursued 
at professional level, among practising architects and 
engineers, and through the media. Indeed, the publication 
of this book will also provide an important channel for 
discussion. Even if we were to achieve only 10 per cent of 
our goal it would be better than importing a style from a 
completely different environment. 

We are certainly not suggesting that a building 
should be constructed entirely in adobe bricks with arches, 
but that it should make some contribution to the creation 
of an identifiable architecture for the Emirates. Several 
seminars have now been held on the nature and quality of 
the urban environment, which have aroused the interest 
of those responsible in the country. However, what we 
need now is not a theoretical response to the problem, 
but tangible measures to clarify the future of the 
urban environment. It is up to a new generation of local 
architects to frame a response to people's expectations, 
and develop a local style which can give clear expression 
to cultural identity. If changes in customs and patterns of 
social life are to occur in the long term, they must happen 
gradually. Furthermore, particularly in the domestic 
realm, people must be given the chance to express their 
individuality. One of our problems in popular housing 
is that every single unit is exactly the same in elevation, 
layout, gateway design etc. The standardization of blocks 
has created a repetitive and monotonous environment. 
It is noticeable that every inhabitant tends to customize 
and accentuate the entrance to his house, some even 
rebuilding it in a different style. Others paint their 
houses in different colours, creating a mosaic-like effect 
in some of the popular housing projects. Another focus 
of self-expression is the boundary wall, which, with villas 
now placed in the centre of the site, takes on something of 
the character of the stir that encircles old towns and 
neighbourhoods. We find that the wall may be extended 
vertically, or painted, or even decorated with features 
that have nothing to do with the overall design. Thus the 
tenant finds ways to fight back against the architect, and 
it becomes clear that if the expectations and requirements 
of the end-user are not respected, the result will be a state 

of architectural chaos. This is vividly demonstrated in 
the projects built in the last two decades, which have by 
now been altered beyond recognition. 

To avoid the situation which arose in the 1970s, 
when every local or married person was eligible for a 
free house and demand dramatically increased, the Abu 
Dhabi Executive Council has decided to construct 
3,000 dwellings in al Ayn during the next three years. 
These will be detached dwellings on a villa model, since 
multi -storey units are deemed unacceptable. In the past, 
popular housing was mainly designed on one level, which 
we supported, but increasingly two storeys were built to 
accommodate the space requirements of the occupants. 
As a result, the privacy of neighbouring houses was 
infringed upon, which may have caused friction. The 
inhabitants responded by blocking up balconies on 
the first floor which were exposed to view or allowed 
overlooking of neighbours. 4 Some of the inhabitants of 
these new settlements, who may originally have been 
Bedouin, commuted to work in the city centres as 
government employees. In a development of 300 houses 
in al 'Ayn, we planned a linear residential area with fields 
on the other side of the road for cultivation, responding 
to Shaykh Zayed's directive to provide settled urban 
communities with direct access to the rural landscape. 
He believed this would encourage settlers to make their 
living from agriculture, subsidized by the government, 
and so create a new economic basis in agriculture for the 
country. It would also provide a disincentive for people 
to move to the main city centres. 5 

There are two key philosophies behind this plan- 
ning policy. The first is that the emphasis on agriculture 
enhances the image of cities such as al 'Ayn, which was 
originally an oasis, and also ensures food supplies for 
the country in the long term, bearing in mind that in the 
next one to two hundred years the economic base in 
oil production and revenue dependency may change. 
Thus agriculture beautifies the country, creating a more 
balanced and sustainable environment, and provides an 
alternative economic base. The second line of thought, 
which is geo-political, is that the new settlements 
help to bridge the long distances between the main 
urban centres and smaller towns and villages. The new 



towns effectively fill a vacuum, and their typical linear 
plan is generated by their location on the main highways 
linking the cities. This form of ribbon development 
is also the most efficient way of tapping into the 
infrastructure systems which run along the roads 
between the cities, and eliminates the problems of 
trying to construct buildings on the sands and among 
the high desert dunes. 

This is the urban morphology that defines the 
development strip between al 'Ayn and Abu Dhabi. 
Driving out of al 'Ayn on this route, one passes through 
al Sulayman, al Yahr, then Sad, Bu Samrah, Rmah and 
al Khaznah, each sited at 10-15 kilometre intervals, and 
each provided with its own fields for cultivation. To the 
south, there have been attempts to achieve a deeper plan 
form than the conventional ribbon development, but 
rarely more than 25 kilometres across, since it is very 
expensive to build on the sands. More initiatives of this 
sort are likely to take place in the future, when expansion 
into the arid desert interior of the country will be 
required, and the cost of the necessary technology will 
have decreased. 

There is a concern on the part of government to 
make these settlements more appealing by constructing 
the public buildings - such as markets, schools and 
mosques - first and then the residential buildings, roads 
and infrastructure. In other words, they want to provide 
the urban services available in any city without the 
hustle of the city centre, while major transactions and 
formalities can continue to be carried out in the main city 
centres, within commuting distance. 

The more complex projects involve the removal of 
desert sands to create flat areas for building. The only 
way to sustain a built environment on the sand dunes 
would be to create impactments, otherwise development 
would have to be dispersed. Ideally, all the houses 
should be grouped together and roads conform to a 
standard width, which can only be achieved with a 
regular, repetitive grid system. So the process of levelling 
is very much designed to prepare specific areas of the land 
for urbanization, leaving the surrounding desert as it is; 
it is certainly not part of a policy of wholesale flattening of 
the desert. The aim is to use available financial resources 

to develop desert areas in a way that was never possible 

Some attempts have been made to create green 
forests, breaking the harshness of the environment, and 
the planting of trees along the main roads has been an 
important measure to safeguard against the encroach- 
ment of the sands. In the past, roads would have to be 
closed off when strong winds moved the sand. Planting 
also provides a safeguard against the sudden appearance 
on the main roads of camel caravans out of the desert 
which used to cause terrible accidents. 

But beyond the roads, the desert is still very 
much in existence, and the need to protect the desert 
environment is recognized. One step that has been taken 
is the building of specially designed sheds in the desert, 
funded by the State, in which local citizens can keep their 
camels, so as to help maintain the way of life of the desert 
habitat. Cash subsidies are also granted to those who 
own livestock - cattle and sheep as well as camels - to 
encourage the continued inhabitation of the desert by 
animals. In addition, there are plans to provide backing 
for the traditional camel race events and tribal poets, in 
order to help conserve the original Bedouin lifestyle. 
Certainly, among the older and younger generation of 
shaykhs and the populace as a whole, the love of the 
desert has not changed. 



The oases 

The al 'Ayn Oasis project was initiated by Al 'Ayn 
Municipality and Town Planning Department, to 
rectify the neglect of the oasis when new housing was 
developed. Sadly the houses were planned with their 
primary fagades facing onto the main streets, and their 
backs to the palm groves, when it should have been 
the other way round. As a result, no one is aware of the 
existence of the oasis, unless they actually go into it. 
In order to address this situation, we planned a new 
road leading to the palm groves, and also redesigned the 
internal walkway systems and upgraded the paving to 
ensure the safety of pedestrians. We couldn't extend 
the work much further, because the groves are private 
property, but we rebuilt the boundary walls to create a 
unified appearance in place of the chaos of planks, ply- 
wood, bricks, mud, concrete breeze-blocks, corrugated 
iron and so on which each owner had used in the 
past to build his own wall. Then we designed new gates 
to highlight the formal traditional entrances to the 

oasis. The plan now is to landscape an area between 
the new road and the edge of the oasis, providing a 
formal threshold to the oasis. We hope that in future a 
new architecture of staggered and stepped buildings, 
responsive to the context of palm groves and trees, can 
be established here. 

The master plan was prepared by Shankland Cox. 
The scheme included shaded areas for seating, including 
a small cafe on the edge of the square, and the renovation 
of the old mosques on the site. We suggested that they 
should be rebuilt in adobe, but this met with strong 
objections from the various parties concerned, and 
the issue became rather sensitive. The preliminary 
phase of the work started in 1988, followed by the first 
implementation phase three years later, although the 
actual execution only really started during the last five 
years and is still continuing. 


Narrow meandering pedestrian paths border the palm groves of al 'Ayn Oasis 



We intend to repeat and build on this project at two 
more oases in the area: the Jlml Oasis and the Qattarah 
Oasis. We wish to acknowledge the role of the oasis in 
the development of the city's morphology, beginning as 
it did as a complex of oases around which settlements 
developed. Gradually the oases became linked to each 
other, through the movement of people between them, 
and development began to expand westward towards the 
capital, Abu Dhabi. Expansion to the north and south, 
towards the mountains and to 'Ayn al Faydah, then 
followed, while in the easterly direction the Sultanate of 
Oman provided a boundary. 

The people who lived around the oases were known 
as the palm people, ahlalnakhil, and the people of Abu 
Dhabi would come every year to spend the summer with 
them, to escape the humidity of the city. The running 
water of the falaj provided a cool and comfortable 
environment. But this traditional focal point of the city 
was quickly forgotten when new roads were built cutting 
through the city north-south and east-west, literally 
turning the developing town away from the palm groves 
when it should have been the reverse. The oasis at al 'Ayn 
is a remarkable feature, which is directly linked to other 
natural landmarks in the topography of the city and its 
environs: the Hafit mountain, and the wadis. (Wadl al 
'Ayn runs into the oasis from the Sultanate of Oman, 
before dispersing, as does the Wadl al Sulayml, while the 
Wadl al Tuwayyah defines the urban boundary of the 
town. They meet and spread out from the point of Slh al 
Miya. So the oasis forges a special relationship between 
the mountain, the interior of the city, and the route out 
of it to the oasis of al Burayml.) Despite the inherent 
value of this oasis, as a reference to the original town 
planning morphology of al 'Ayn and its environs, it is 
completely concealed by buildings, so that no one knows 
where it is located without consulting a map. This is a 
reflection on the reality forged by the intervention of 
modern development, accompanied by a lack of con- 
sideration for the nuances that generated the structure of 
the original fabric. 


The mosque of 'Ubayd bin 'Ail al Nasiri under renovation at al 'Ayn Oasis 


The main square at the heart of al 'Ayn Oasis 


The main square at the heart of al 'Ayn Oasis 



/ ' 





Geoffrey King 

Dalma Island lies in the western waters of Abu 
Dhabi Emirate, in the United Arab Emirates, 40 
kilometres from the mainland at Jebel Dhannah and 80 
kilometres from the east coast of Qatar. 1 Dalma is one of 
the larger islands off the coast with barren mountains 
dominating much of the centre. The main town, also 
called Dalma, is at the southern tip of the island where 
settlement has been established since the most ancient 
times, thanks to the presence of plentiful sweet water. 
The earliest site in this area is 'Ubayd-related, 2 while an 
Islamic graveyard just west of the town centre has pottery 
of c. sixth century AD date, fourteenth- century imports 
from Iran and China, and Late Islamic period pottery. 
Later Islamic pottery was also excavated in underlying 
structures during the restoration of the al Muraykhl 

Dalma is remarkable for the number of its extant 
traditional Islamic buildings. With a commercial building 
and three mosques all very close to each other in the 
centre of the old town, there is more traditional Islamic 
architecture extant in Dalma town than anywhere else 
along the Abu Dhabi coast. 

Before the fieldwork by the Abu Dhabi Islands 
Archaeological Survey (AD IAS) in 1 992 from which the 
present account arises, the only research to have been 
reported was a short report that included comments on 
the archaeology of Dalma by S. Cleuziou.' This report 

had only limited circulation, but it included ground plans 
and photographs of the buildings discussed here. 

When these Dalma buildings first were recorded in 
the course of the 1992 season of fieldwork by AD IAS, 
they were all dilapidated and their future survival was a 
matter of obvious doubt. As a result of the AD IAS report 
submitted in April 1 992 to the Abu Dhabi authorities on 
our fieldwork, instructions were given for restoration of 
the traditional Islamic architecture of Dalma which was 
undertaken in 1993-4 by Dr Abdul Sattar Al-Azzawi of 
the Sharjah Department of Antiquities. By this prompt 
action, the buildings discussed here have been preserved 
and protected as a part of the architectural heritage 
of Abu Dhabi and the UAE. In this account they are 
described as a matter of record as they were when we first 
studied them in 1992, i.e. before restoration. 

The group of buildings as a whole is no older 
than a century and they may all be less. The only precise 
dating is provided by the foundation inscription in 
the al Muhannadl mosque which is dated to Shawwal 
1349/March 1931. There is also a graffito dating 
inscription in the Sa'ld 'All al Qubaysl mosque of 
1377/1946, which gives it a terminus ante quern.. Local 
memory also suggests that the undated buildings (the Bayt 
al Muraykhl and al Muraykhl mosque) are of similar 
date to al Muhannadl mosque. However, the antiquity of 
the building traditions is very much greater. 



A merchant's building 

Bayt al Muraykhi 

The Bayt al Muraykhi is associated with al Muraykhi 
mosque just to its east. It stood in a garden amidst 
trees on a traffic island, close to the old shoreline, 
although this shoreline was masked by landfill by 1 992 . 
Like the mosque, it was built by Muhammad bin Jasim al 
Muraykhi, a member of a well-known family of the area 
who was engaged in the pearl trade, and the building 
was used as a secure commercial property. We were told 
that the building had been constructed by al Huwala 
Arab workers from the Iranian shore and the islands on 
the opposite side of the Gulf. It was constructed of 
beach-stone and plastered over with gypsum, which, in 
1992, was turning a pinkish-white from its original 
pure white. During the recent restorations a date crush 
{madbasah) was excavated just to the north-east of the 
house but there was no trace whatever of this visible 
on the surface in 1992. The madbasah has now been 
completely rebuilt. 

Bayt al Muraykhi had been designed as a secure 
commercial building with two strong windowless 
ground-floor rooms. Each room was entered through a 
single doorway from a central passage. Overall, the 
ground floor measured externally 17.55 x 8.14 metres 
and consisted of the two rooms to north and south of the 
passage. The south room internally measured 5.87 x 6.75 
metres and the north room measured 6.02 x 6.28 metres. 
The central east-west passage between them measured 
3.26 metres in width. These lower rooms of the house 
served as a local natural history museum until the late 
1980s but this had fallen into disuse by 1992. 

The upper storey of Bayt al Muraykhi consisted of 
two terraces to the north and south of an elegant central 
room. The terraces formed the roofing of the ground- 
floor secure rooms. The only access to this upper storey 
in 1 992 was a wooden ladder fixed above a platform on 
the east side of the building, leading to the south terrace. 
The south terrace measured 6.75 x 7.66 metres and the 
north terrace measured 6.52 x 7.85 metres. These 


The trees surrounding the Bayt al Muraykhi, from the east 


Bayt al Muraykhi: ground plan, lower floor 


Ground plan, upper floor 




Bayt al Muraykhl: east elevation 


West elevation 

Bottom left 

South elevation 

Bottom right 

North elevation 

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terraces were each surrounded by a low wall forming a 
balustrade, 40 centimetres wide. Both terraces were 
pitched to the west, so that rain water could flow off 
through four square wooden channels projecting about 
30 centimetres from the building on that side. At the 
north-west corner of the northern roof terrace was an 
upright post, 36 x 39 centimetres in section and just 
under one metre high. 

Between the terraces stood the central chamber, the 
only room on the upper floor. It lay on an east-west axis, 
directly above the ground-floor passage. It measured 
7.02 x 3.28 metres and was built in the usual pier-and- 
panel system of construction found throughout the Gulf 
area. At the south-west and south-east external corners 
of the building were two quarter-pilasters on squared 
plinths. There were also corresponding pilasters at its 
north-east and north-west corners. It had windows, bad 
gir (mid-wall windcatcher) and, above those, blind arches 
arranged in two registers, in the manner customary 
in buildings in the region. The chamber was made as 
cool as possible in the harsh summer by the numerous 
windows and the clustering of the bad gir at the east end 
of the chamber. In cooler or windy weather, the wooden 
window shutters could be closed or the ventilator slots in 
the windcatchers could be shut off. 

The south wall 

The main entrance leading into the chamber from the 
south terrace was preceded by a 10-centimetre high 
doorstep of beach-stone, 40 centimetres in width. The 
entrance had a round arch, corresponding in general 
form although wider than the rounded blind arches over 
the windows (see next page). The door had vanished but 
the door frame remained, measuring 1.90 x 1.20 metres. 
There were still some hinges in place and rust stains 
marked where others had vanished. The wooden lintel 
had a damaged inscription: 'sayakfiku-hum Allah wa hwwa 
al Samt al i Alim' (Qur'an: 'may God suffice them, the 
All-hearing, the Omniscient'). 

In the lower register of the south wall there were 
three identical rectangular windows at the west end. 
They were each surmounted by a blind round-headed 
arch set back 2-3 centimetres within a rectangular panel. 


Bayt al Muraykhi: door to the south storeroom on the ground floor 



/ V "*;■'■■*' 


The south side of the upper- floor chamber 

These windows were subdivided by horizontal wooden 
cross pieces and there were eight vertical iron bars in 
each window, spaced 6 centimetres apart. The windows 
once had wooden shutters but all were missing. East of 
the entrance was a single window, identical to the three 
to the west, while in the final panel to the east was a 

In the upper register was a rank of rectangular 
recesses containing blind broken arches with lobes. The 
arches were also set back 2-3 centimetres from their 
rectangular frames. The crowns of the arches were 
alternately either ogee or rounded. The blind arch with 
an ogee set over the entrance was wider than the other 
blind arches. 

The eaves were set forward slightly from the rest of 
the wall on all four sides of the building. They were plain 
on all sides except at the east end, where there was a 
dogstooth motif in relief. 

The north wall 

The exterior surface of the north side of the chamber 
followed the same design as the south wall. The lower 
register consisted of rectangular windows measuring 
1.21 x 0.76 metres, all set back around 7 centimetres 
from the surrounding frames. They were closed by the 
usual metal grilles and had round-headed blind arches in 
the register above. The design of the north wall differed 
from the south wall only in the location of the doorway 

leading to the north terrace, which was placed centrally. 
The north entrance was of the same width as the flanking 
windows, in contrast to the larger main door on the 
south side. 

The east and west walls 

The exterior faces of the east and west walls of the upper 
storey were treated in a similar manner to the south and 
north walls. At the east end there was a bad gir on either 
side of a central window, while at the west end of the 
building there were three windows in the lower register 
and no badglr. The upper register in each case consisted 
of blind broken arches crowned with ogees, flanking a 
broken lobed arch over the central window. The upper- 
most stretch of wall below the eaves had a dogstooth 
decorative motif in relief. 

The interior 

The interior surface of the south wall corresponded to 
the exterior with respect to the treatment of the windows, 
the bad gir and the disposition of the blind panels in the 
upper register. The lower windows and the bad gir were 
set back from the plane of the wall by 1-1.5 centimetres 
on the interior. 

The uppermost part of the wall below the cavetto 
was terminated by a dogstooth moulding in raised relief 


Bayt al Muraykhi: ceiling corner decoration 



in a similar manner to that on the exterior of the 
east wall. This dogstooth decoration below the cavetto 
ran around all of the uppermost part of the room. A 
triangular panel cut off each of the four corners of the 
ceiling above the cavetto (see below left). The triangular 
panels were decorated in relief although nowhere was the 
motif clear. Similar decorative plaster triangles are found 
in Bayt Jasim b. 'Abd al Wahhab at Darin on the Saudi 
island of Tarut. 4 

At the east end of the room were three ranks 
of recesses. In the lower rank in the centre was the 
rectangular window arrangement noted already in the 
account of the exterior. Each window was surmounted 
by a round lunette. To either side were the bad gir, 
surmounted by blind round-headed arches. On the next 
level, above these blind arches, were rectangular panels. 
That in the centre had a lobed crown while there were 
ogees in the panels on either side. The interior surface of 
the west wall was identical to that of the east wall, except 
that there were windows rather than bad gir. 

The floor in the eastern part of the upper room was 
collapsing, partly because of repairs in cement carried 
out at a late date. It was here that the need for immediate 
restoration was most obvious in 1992 as the floor's 
disintegration was imminent. 

Bayt al Muraykh! and related structures 

Bayt al Muraykhl pearl house appears to be the only 
commercial structure of this character to have been 
recorded anywhere in the Gulf. It combined the need for 
security for valuable merchandise, in this case pearls, 
with the provision of a fine room on the upper floor 
where the pearl-merchant al Muraykhl could conduct 
business in as cool an environment as the pre-modern 
Gulf could afford. 

While parallels for the combination of strong 
rooms and the upper-floor chamber do not seem to 
survive elsewhere, the upper-floor chamber in itself has 
numerous extant parallels. In essence this is the standard 
pavilion-like chamber ubiquitous in the Gulf in the 
pre-modern period. The pier-and-panel construction 
method lends itself to the insertion of mid-wall wind- 
catchers {bad girs) and windows to admit the slightest 

breeze, while simultaneously excluding sunlight with 
shutters, all essential in the oppressive humidity and heat 
of a Gulf summer. 

Parallels for the upper chamber in terms of general 
appearance, design and ventilation systems and in the 
treatment of decoration are numerous, with very similar 
rooms in different contexts found in Qatar, Bahrain, 
Tarut, al Qatlf and al Jubayl. A house in Wakra in 
Qatar is especially close in design, decoration, and the 
concentration of its bad girs within the building. 5 A room 
in the Bayt Abd al Wahhab at Tarut off the Saudi coast 
is also very similar. 6 A modest house from al Jubayl in 
Saudi Arabia (now lost) is typical of the traditional houses 
of the region and shares the same pier-and-panel system 
that we see in the Bayt al Muraykhl. The Bayt al 
Mu'ayyad house on Bahrain (now lost) comprised a series 
of individual chambers of this type, in effect modules that 
together comprised a complex courtyard house. 7 

The broken lobed arches in Bayt al Muraykhl are 
identical to those in the Wakra house in Qatar and in the 
Bayt Abd al Wahhab at Tarut, and are clearly a standard 
form throughout the region. The blind plaster grilles 
and blind panels and arches in these buildings are also 
ubiquitous throughout the area. 

Finally, the roof structure is standard in design and 
in width everywhere in these buildings, whether secular 
or religious. The determining factor is the average length 
of the imported mangrove poles (around 3 metres) 
which, allowing 20-30 centimetres for the ends to rest on 
the walls of the structure, makes rooms and mosque 
aisles tend to be quite uniform in width at about 2.7-2.8 
metres everywhere along the coast of Arabia, whenever 
mangrove poles are used. 



The mosques 

Al Muraykhi mosque 

The al Muraykhi mosque lies east-north-east of the 
Bayt al Muraykhi and west of the old suq, which was 
demolished some years ago. 8 The National Bank of Abu 
Dhabi is 30 metres north of the mosque, standing where 
part of the old suq used to be, while the sea used to reach to 
about 50 metres south of the mosque. The ground in this 

area is now very disturbed by modern landfill and the for- 
mer beach has been obliterated. The al Muraykhi mosque 
was no longer in use when we first examined it in 1992. 
It was built of beach-stone and in 1992 it was 
covered in gypsum plaster which was painted pale green 
on the exterior, while traces of plaster still survived on 


Al Muraykhi mosque, 
east elevation 


South elevation 


West elevation 

p left 

/ Muraykhi mosque: the east side 

Interior looking south, wit 
wall on right 

Bottom left 

Mihrab and qiblah wall 

Qiblah wall 



the interior. In recent times the mosque walls had been 
resurfaced in cement. Overall, the mosque measured 
14.2 x 17.12 metres externally and it was oriented to 265° 
to qiblah. It had a roofed prayer hall on the western 
(qiblah) side, measuring internally 12.9 x 7.3 metres. The 
sahn (courtyard) on the east side of the prayer hall was 
1 3 .2 x 8.5 metres, defined by low walls painted red. These 
walls were built in segments and were rather irregular, 
varying in width between 55 and 60 centimetres. The 
north and south walls of the sahn aligned with the lateral 
walls of the prayer hall. 

The entire structure, courtyard and prayer hall 
stood upon a beach-rock platform about 1 metre above 
present ground level. Along the north, south and west 
sides (excluding the mihrab) this platform revealed itself 
as a footing, built of beach-rock and concrete, projecting 
45 centimetres from the line of the superstructure above, 
and painted red. The north-east, north-west and south- 
west corners were buttressed, the buttresses varying in 
height between 60-80 centimetres. This platform had 
the role of protecting the mosque against damp rising 
from the saline soil and it also served to cast off rain 

The mosque enclosure was entered by a single 
entrance set at the southern end of the east wall of the 
courtyard. It was approached by a rough earth ramp in 
1 992 but there may have been a step here originally. The 
floor of the sahn was slightly lower than the level of the 
prayer-hall floor, and it was unpaved although some 
traces of plaster still covered the floor in the central area. 

The courtyard was empty but for a rectangular 
prayer-call platform measuring 1.02 x 0.87 metres in 
the north-east corner, built against the sahn wall. This 
platform was slightly banked so that it was smaller in area 
at the top than at the base. Its manner of use as a place 
to call the prayer was demonstrated to me by a local man. 
It corresponded precisely to the position of a similar 
prayer-call platform in mosques II and III at Julfar (Ra's al 
Khaymah) which are dated to the fourteenth or fifteenth 
century. 9 

The prayer hall was entered from the sahn through 
one of three rectangular doorways in the east wall, the 



Above right 

Al Muraykhi mosque: ground plan 

Pillar in the prayer hall 

Above left 


central one of which was on alignment with the mihrab 
in the west wall. These three entrances were all 1.4 
metres wide. Although the prayer-hall entrances probably 
once had doors, there was no sign of them in 1992. The 
thresholds had all disintegrated and there were no door 



fitments on the lintels. Above each of these entrances were 
square decorative blind grilles. The grille on alignment 
with the mihrab had a circular motif within the centre in 
the form of a star, differing in this from the simpler 
grilles over the two lateral doors. 

Flanking these three doorways were two rectangular 
windows each with a wooden frame that held iron bars, 
set vertically, a feature typical of buildings throughout 
the Gulf. 10 Above each window was a blind round-headed 
arch, corresponding to a similar recess on the interior. 

The interior 

The prayer hall measured 12.9 x 7.3 metres internally, 
with walls 65-73 centimetres thick. The interior was 
coated with gypsum plaster which was beige-pink but 
which originally had been white: there were some 
cement repairs. The interior was divided by a row of four 
rectangular piers into two aisles running parallel to the 
qiblah wall. The piers stood respectively 3.1-3.2 metres 
from the west wall and 3.21-3.25 metres from the east 
wall of the prayer hall. Surmounting the piers were 
stepped impost blocks forming simple capitals. Along 
with attached piers in the lateral walls these piers 
supported a system of wooden joists covered in plaster 
which would have carried the original roof. 11 

The upper walls of the mosque interior and the 
superstructure above the piers terminated in a plaster 
cavetto, forming a continuous cornice running independ- 
ently around the front (west) aisle of the mosque and 
again independently around the rear (east) aisle. The 
corners of the two rectangular roofing units to east 
and west of the colonnade were cut at each corner by a 
triangular decorative feature in plaster. 

Above the cornice, the upper wall carried traces of 
the wooden beams of the original roof. It had been 
replaced by modern corrugated asbestos, work done by 
the Dalma baladiyah (municipality) before 1992. We were 
told that the original roofing beams had been imported 
from India. 

Inside the mosque, there were four window units in 
each of the north and the south lateral walls, three to 
either side of the mihrab in the west (qiblah) wall, and one 
at the extremities of the east wall. All of the window units 

were treated in a similar manner, with a rectangular 
window in the lower part with a wooden frame, partly 
closed by six vertical iron bars and a single wooden cross 
piece. In the upper part of each window unit was a blind 
round-headed arch set within a slighdy raised rectangular 

Treatment of the interior of the east wall differed: 
above each of the three doorways there were deep 
rectangular recesses, corresponding in their location to 
the decorative grilles on the exterior above the three 
doorways to the prayer hall. 

The mihrab 

The qiblah wall, as we have seen, had six windows in all, 
set in two ranks of three on either side of the central 
mihrab niche. This niche was rectangular in ground plan, 
measuring 1.55 x 2.2 1 metres externally. Seen from the 
exterior, the mihrab walls ran straight up from ground- 
surface level, without any of the buttressing that marked 
the footing of the other walls of the mosque. 

The mihrab was covered by a barrel vault. At 
the outermost western edge of the barrel vault was a 
round column, about 1 metre high and 2 5 centimetres in 
diameter with a conical capping. This feature is unique 
in Arabian mosques as far as this writer is aware. 12 

The interior of the mihrab was covered in cement 
and grey-black pitch. The niche rose over half the 
full height of the qiblah wall. It had a bad glr set in a 
rectangular recess in each of the south, west and north 
sides. These served to ventilate the mihrab interior and 
the forefront of the mosque. The bad glr -was constructed 
with a rear panel that sloped outwards and upwards, with 
a mid-wall open vent set horizontally. The dimensions of 
the western windcatcher approximated to those in the 
other two sides of the mihrab: it measured 1.07 x 0.05 
metres and was set back 42 centimetres. It was 78 
centimetres deep at the base, tapering to 72 centimetres 
at the level of the airvent slot which was 8.5 centimetres 





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Top left 

Top right 

A/ Muraykhi mosque: decorative 

Grille over the north 

ioor in tht 

geometric grille over the south door 

east wall 

in the east wall 



Grille over the central door in the 
east wall. It is on an axis with the 



Al Muhannadi mosque 

The mosque lay about 30 metres south of the 
National Bank of Abu Dhabi and to the north of 
the al Qubaysl mosque." When we saw it first in 1992, 
we were told it was called al Dawsarl mosque, but during 
the restorations we were informed that it is correctly 
named al Muhannadi mosque. 

It was constructed of beach-rock and gypsum 
mortar, repaired with cement; the whole exterior was 
coated with white plaster. The mosque measured overall 
12.82 x 1 1.62 metres externally and was oriented 266° to 
qiblah, and consisted of a shallow rectangular courtyard 
on the east side and a prayer hall fronted by a portico on 
the west {qiblah) side. Against the exterior of the courtyard 
on the south side was a hammam. 


Al Muhannadi mosque: ground plan 


Mihrab and qiblah pillar in the 
prayer hall 

Right top 

East elevation 

Right middle 

West elevation 

Right bottom 

North elevation 

(qiblah) wall from the north-west 

Above middle 

The courtyard and the portico, 
looking south 

Above bottom 

The courtyard and the east portico, 
looking north 

Right bottom 

The roofing 




The courtyard 

The courtyard measured 4x11 metres, although it was 
difficult to distinguish it from the open portico in front 
of the prayer hall to the west as the space between the 
courtyard and the portico was continuous. On the other 
three sides, the courtyard was enclosed by a somewhat 
irregular low stone balustrade, like that of the al 
Muraykhl mosque. It was around 50 centimetres thick, 
88 centimetres high, and coated in white plaster, although 
a recent cement skin covered parts of the wall. The 
lateral courtyard walls were not on line with the portico 
walls and the lateral walls of the prayer hall: they 
appeared to be a later addition along with the hammam. 
There was a single entrance to the courtyard set 
slightly off-centre from the line of the central mihrab in 
the prayer hall. There was also access to the courtyard 
from the hammam through the south wall of the court- 
yard. The courtyard had a cement floor, as did the 
interior of the mosque. 

The hammam 

The hammam, which measured 5.3x5 metres, was built 
against the exterior of the south wall of the courtyard and 
abutted and cut into the eastern pilaster of the portico. 
The walls of the were only 40 centimetres thick 
and were thinner (and probably later) than the courtyard 
walls. It had a corrugated asbestos roof but stubs of 
mangrove poles at ceiling height indicated the nature of 
an earlier roof. The hammam was being used for storage: 
as a result, the interior was largely obscured from view. 

The portico 

The portico measured 10.2 x 3 .8 metres with lateral walls 
forming the continuation of the side walls of the prayer 
hall. The walls of the portico on either side were opened 
by rectangular windows, each with a wooden frame and 
a horizontal wooden cross piece. There were six vertical 
iron bars in each window. Each of these had four wooden 
shutters articulated with a very low relief in a rectangular 

Above the rectangular windows were slightly 
recessed rectangular panels in the portico walls. Set in 
each of these panels was a round-headed arch with a thin 

parapet-like feature filling the lower half. Marking the 
eastern end of the portico were attached columns. The 
attached column on the south side was partly concealed 
by the hammam and there appeared to be an earlier 
circular column built within a square column. 

In the portico area there formerly may have been 
one, or perhaps two, columns similar to the attached 
columns in the portico walls. However, in 1992 these had 
vanished. There were only plain, square posts in wood, 
supporting the roof, all modern. 

The prayer hall 

The prayer hall on the qiblah side was shallow, measuring 
10.2 x 3.57 metres with a wall thickness of 60 centi- 
metres. It had a flat roof constructed of mangrove poles 
and palm matting with reed mesh, covered by a gypsum 
plaster mortar. It was almost completely ruined when we 
first saw it in 1 992 . 

On the exterior, at roof level on the qiblah side, 
were four rectangular holes in various degrees of 
disintegration which once held around one-metre long 
wooden drainage spouts to carry rain water from the roof 
of the mosque. 

There were three doorways in the east wall from the 
courtyard, entered from the portico. Of these, one was 
nearly on axis with the central mihrab in the western 
{qiblah) wall, and the other two flanked it to either side. 
There were double doors in each entrance, each with a 
decorated cover-strip. The door designs appeared to 
differ from each other but they were badly weathered. 

Above each of these three entrances was a blind 
round-headed arch, set back in a rectangular panel 
6 centimetres from the plane of the wall surface. 
Above each of these three blind arches was yet another 


Top left 

Al Muhannadl mosque: door leaf in 
the east portico 

Bottom left 

Door leaf in the east portico 

Top right 

East wall and portico 


Designs on Decorative plaster 

Far right (top) 

Decorative plaster lunette over the 
south door in the east wall 

Far right (middle) 

Decorative plaster lunette in the 
east wall over the central door 

Far right (bottom) 

Decorative plaster lunette in the 
east wall over the north door 

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Mihrab details 


A/ Muhannadi mosque: decorative 
piaster panels and inscription over 
the mihrab 



semi-circular arch, filled with decorative plaster grilles, 
all with different geometric designs. 

There were two rectangular windows in each of 
the lateral walls, set 15 centimetres above floor level and 
with six vertical iron bars (but seven in the north-east 
window). The window units repeated the design already 
seen in the portico, the only difference being that the 
round-headed arches above these windows were blind, 
filled with thin panelling. Each window had four plain 
wooden shutters. 

The single mihrab in the centre of the qiblah wall 
was a large rectangular projection measuring 1 .46 x 2.01 
metres externally and 1.38 metres wide and 1.69 metres 
deep internally. It was roofed by a barrel vault, which 
sloped slightly down and away from the qiblah wall. 
There was a ledge at the point where the barrel vault 
sprang. In the upper part of the south, north and west 
sides of the mihrab, there were small openings to light 
and ventilate its interior. 

On the interior, the mihrab was set in a rectangular 
recessed panel with moulded relief decoration in its 
corners. Within this recessed panel was yet another 
rectangular panel, with a deeply cut geometric grille. 
Above, there was a lobed arch with a whirling disc in 
the centre and a half version of the same motif on either 
side. The blind arch and panel with geometric plaster 



decoration over the mihrab are similar to decorative 
plaster panels from Tarut, Bahrain and Dubai. 

On either side and below these decorative panels 
were incised inscriptions as follows: 

Right: 'Bism Allah al Rahman alRahim'. 

('In the name of God the Merciful, the 

Below: 'qad kamal al Una'' bi ''awn al Khaliq al Sama' 
ft shawwal sannat 1349\ 

('The building was completed with the help of the 
Creator of heaven in [the month of] Shawwal of the 
year 1349 [March 1931]'.) 

There was a niche for storing Qur'ans in the west 
side of the mihrab, measuring 60 x 44 x 24 centimetres, 
with a moulding frame around it. 

Arranged on each side of the mihrab in the west 
{qiblah) wall were four window units in groups of 
two. These windows were slightly different from those 
already described. There were rectangular window 
frames in the lower rank, each with seven vertical iron 
window bars (as opposed to six in most of the side 
windows). Above each window was a blind round-headed 
arch which, on the south side, lacked the shallow recessed 
framing found on the lateral walls of the prayer-hall 
interior. However, there were faint traces of rectangular 
recesses around the two northern blind arches of the 
qiblah wall. 

There were a number of blind niches, each 15 
centimetres deep, set in the interior wall surfaces. There 
were two in the north wall, two in the south wall and two 
on either side of the mihrab. The upper wall terminated 
in a cavetto cornice running around all four walls. A 
zig-zag relief pattern in plaster also ran along the cornice 
of the north, south and west {qiblah) walls. The east wall 
alone had a cornice and no zig-zag relief. 

On the exterior, at the point of junction of the qiblah 
wall with the north and south side walls of the prayer 
hall, there were attached quarter-columns. At the north- 
west corner, the ground had risen and the base of the 
quarter-column could not be seen, but at the south-west 
corner, where the ground was lower, the column was 
revealed clearly. 

Sa'id 'Ali al Qubaysi mosque 

Unlike the other two mosques described in this 
section, the Sa'id 'All al Qubaysi mosque was 
still in use in April 1992, with a largely South Asian 
congregation. Its name was recorded on a white marble 
plaque on the east side of the entrance. It was the largest 
mosque of the Dalma group, measuring overall 21.8 x 
17.57 metres and it was oriented 268° to qiblah. It 
consisted of a prayer hall on the west side fronted by a 
portico with an open courtyard to the east. There was 
a hammam at the south-east corner of the courtyard, 
outside the enclosure. The mosque was constructed of 
beach-rock and gypsum plaster and it was whitewashed 
inside and out. Cement repair at the bottom of the walls 
and portico columns was cracking off in sheets as a result 
of rising damp and salts. Whitewash and plaster was also 
peeling from the external walls. 

The courtyard was surrounded by a low wall 50 
centimetres thick with a coped top rising to a maximum 
height of 1.45 metres. The courtyard, measured inter- 
nally, was 12.72 x 16.34 metres. There was a single 
entrance on the north side with plain wooden double 
doors. The courtyard was partly roofed with asbestos 
sheets resting on modern timber, and it had a cement 
floor which we assumed continued under the carpeting 
in the portico and into the prayer hall itself. There was a 
modern concrete platform standing 1 centimetres high 
in the courtyard and a breeze-block structure on the 
south side. There was also a wooden bier for funerals, in 
the courtyard. 


Sa'id 'Alt al Qubaysi mosque: the qiblah wall from the north-west 

courtyard and east wall of the 
prayer hall 

Above middle 

The east wall of the prayer hall 

The Interior of the prayer hall 


The portico, looking north 





Sa'ld 'All al Qubaysl mosque: the 

Ground plan 

east wall of the prayer hall, looking 






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Right top 

North elevation 

Right middle 

West elevation 

Right bottom 

East elevation 


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The portico 

The open portico running along the west side of the 
courtyard and fronting the east fagade of the prayer hall 
formed a natural continuation of the court. It consisted 
of two lateral walls (the north and south) bonded to the 
prayer hall and each measuring 3.9 metres. There were 
four octagonal columns running parallel to those inside 
the mosque, on a north-south axis. The column bases 
measured 60 x 60 centimetres, and they were set 2.66 
metres from each other. At the east and west ends, both 
lateral walls were terminated by an attached column. 

In each of these lateral stretches of wall there were 
two rectangular windows, both 1.46 metres high and 
between 93-95 centimetres wide. In 1992, they had 
wooden shutters which were closed and boarded up. 
Surmounting each window was a stilted round-headed 
arch set in a rectangular frame 54 centimetres high 
and 27 centimetres wide. The arches were recessed 37 
centimetres within the wall thickness and were closed 
below by a panel 52 centimetres high. Thus, only the 
uppermost part of each arch was open. 

Above the paired openings in the lateral walls, the 
plane of the wall was set forward 1.6 centimetres. Above 
this was a plain stretch of wall followed by a moulded 
cornice and an undulating moulding in relief. 

On the short stretch of wall between the two 
windows on the north side of the portico were two 
lightly incised graffiti representing boats, carved into the 
smooth gypsum plaster of the mosque walls. The plaster 
was falling away and the two drawings were already 
fragile in 1 992 : since then they have both been lost. The 
incised boat motifs are discussed below. 

The prayer hall 

The prayer hall measured 16.3 x 7.15 metres. Its only 
access was from the east side where there were originally 
five doors, although those at the northern and southern 
extremity of the wall were no longer in use in 1 992 and 
were boarded up. The entrances were all rectangular, 
measuring 1 .08 metres in width. The central entrance 
had a double door with an elongated oval motif on each 
leaf, while the other doors lacked decoration, having only 
plain panels. 14 

Each entrance had a round-headed arch above it, 
forming a tympanum and set back 3 centimetres in a 
rectangular frame. Over the central entrance was a 
plaster grille with geometric decoration. Above the 
windows a raised line ran the width of the fagade, 
followed by a plain stretch of wall above and then relief 
moulding forming an undulating line like that which 
appeared at this height in the lateral walls of the portico. 
The ends of the mangrove beams of the prayer-hall roof 
lay above the moulding. About 40 centimetres of wall 
had been added on the east side to support the modern 
wooden roof of the portico. This late roof replaced an 
earlier one that had rested on the octagonal columns and 
the lateral walls of the portico. 

The interior of the prayer hall was divided by a 
row of four round columns into two aisles that ran 
north-south, parallel to the qiblah wall. They contrasted 
with the octagonal form of the columns in the portico, 
but their design corresponded to the half-columns built 
against the lateral walls of the portico. 

The columns inside the prayer hall had a circum- 
ference of 1.54-1.55 metres and rested on square bases 
measuring 60 x 60 centimetres. The columns were set 
2.65 metres apart from each other. They carried squared 
impost blocks with a moulded cavetto giving a capital-like 
effect. These impost blocks in turn bore joists disguised 
by plaster moulding. 

The upper wall areas of the east and the west {qiblah) 
bays of the prayer hall had their own independent 
systems of cornices and raised undulating moulding like 
those already described in the portico. This independent 
treatment of the cornices in each bay was also seen in al 
Muraykhl mosque. 

The roofing of the prayer hall was of traditional 
Gulf type with mangrove poles set at right angles to the 
qiblah across the joists. These poles supported a bamboo 
lattice {basjll, said to be imported from India) which in 
turn carried a thin mesh of palm matting. 

The mihrab recess in the al Qubaysl mosque was of 
particular interest. It was set in the centre of the qiblah 
wall, on line with the central door. It was rectangular in 
plan, forming a projection measuring 1.65 x2.09 metres 
on the exterior and 1.38 x 1.69 metres internally. It was 



roofed by a barrel vault. The niche was divided into two 
distinct elements, the mihrab proper to the left (south) 
and a fixed minbar (pulpit) built into the right (north) 
side of the niche. As a result, the mihrab was reduced to a 
width of a mere 77 centimetres with a thin wall dividing 
it from the minbar. An entrance from the mihrab led into 
the minbar which was 49 centimetres wide and which had 
four steps, ascending to a projecting rectangular pulpit 
whose front ledge projected 3 1.5 centimetres and which 
was stepped forward from the fagade of the qiblah 
wall. This ledge was decorated with an undulating relief 
decoration and a cavetto recalling the decoration already 
noted beneath the ceiling of the prayer hall. The minbar 
cavetto also echoed that on the impost blocks of the 

The mihrab-m.inbar niche had a blocked air vent in 
the upper part of the west wall and a badgir lower down 
in each of its three sides: all were blocked. 

In the qiblah wall on either side of the mihrab were 
two small shelves where incense had been burnt. There 
were also two flanking niches which were in fact blocked 
bad glr; that to the south measured 0.93 x 1.42 metres 
while that to the north measured 0.94 x 1.37 metres. 
They were set back 44 centimetres from the interior wall 
plane. There was a total of six windows distributed in 
groups of three on either side of the mihrab. Each window 
measured 0.91 x 1.42 metres, set back 48 centimetres 
from the interior wall plane. Above each window was a 
round-headed arch, set back 27 centimetres. The windows 
and arches above were all set in shallow rectangular 
frames, 3 centimetres deep. Closing the windows were 
double-leaf wooden shutters. 

The north wall and the south wall of the prayer hall 
had four windows of identical design to those in the 
qiblah wall, with blind arches above each one. The 
shelves provided by the windows and blind arches were 
used to store Qur'ans and Qur'an stands. 

The hammam 

The hammam measured 4.5 x 4.8 metres externally and 
stood against the exterior of the south wall of the court- 
yard at its east end. It was entered from the courtyard or 
from the west, through a garden beside the mosque. The 

original mangrove beams and palm-matting roofing 
were covered by a modern asbestos roof. 

The incised drawings in the portico 

Boat drawings have a long history in the Gulf and those 
incised into the plaster in the north wall of the portico 
were a new addition to the repertoire of such pictures. 
They were also the first found in a mosque in the region. 

The boats in the two drawings were shown side-on 
to the viewer but the nature of the plaster breakage was 
such that in neither case was any boat illustrated complete. 
In one (see next page), half of a hull and a sail were partly 
visible, but the vertical break of the plaster had sliced 
away the other end of the boat and its sail; in the other 
(see next page), two halves of separate hulls survived with 
two sails clearly visible, as well as rigging and perhaps a 
third sail. There were no human figures whatsoever. 

The boat represented in the first picture consisted 
of a roughly sketched hull, rising at one end (presumably 
the stern). A triangular sail was cut off at its smaller end 
because of the plaster break. Five lines ran vertically 
across the sail. Two vertical lines marked rigging, running 
up to the vanished mast, cut by a vertical break in the 

Whereas the drawing overleaf, top right, was cut 
vertically, the bottom right one was cut away horizontally 
and only the upper part of the picture survived. The 
boat on the right had a triangular sail intact with eight 
vertical lines which probably corresponded in shape to 
the incomplete sail in bottom right. It had a mast and two 
lines that seemed to indicate rigging. 

The incised drawing to the extreme left seemed 
to show a boat of entirely different design, apparently 
sinking, although this interpretation is to assume that all 
was organized against the same horizon; if the boat was 
indeed going down, one end had reared up. The narrow 
midships area presented a rigidity of line that contrasted 
with the hull delineated in the picture top right. On the 
extreme end was a flag with an x-motif. On the top of 
the rigging was another long narrow flag, flying in the 
opposite direction, marked by a chequer pattern. A 
group of three lines forming a triangle may have been a 
sail but its continuation to the left was unclear. Incised in 







the drawing was the date 1377/1 946. The inscription may 
be later than the drawings or it may date them as a group. 
There are number of similar boat representations 
elsewhere in the area. The earliest reported was found at 
Siraf on the Iranian coast. 15 It was from an upper room of 
a palace and was incised into the wall. The drawing 
showed a three-masted boat which David Whitehouse, 
the excavator, took to be of some size. He suggested that 
it should be regarded as eleventh century. (An incised 
illustration of a boat has also been noted at Kumzar in 
Musamdam by P. Costav.) 

Far left 

Sa'ld 'All al Qubaysl mosque: 
Incised boat drawing (details) 

Below left 

Incised boat drawing 


Sketch of Incised boat drawing 


Sketch of incised boat drawing 

A group of boat drawings has been found cut into 
natural rock at Jabal al Jussaslya on the north-east coast 
of Qatar. 16 These include boats in profile like those which 
we found in the Qubaysl mosque. W. Facey argues that 
the boat drawings at al Jussaslya should be dated to any- 
where between 1600 and 1800, on the basis of ceramics 
found nearby. However, he also argues that the boat 
drawings could go back as early as the tenth century. The 
evidence of Siraf at least demonstrates that the tradition 
of sketching contemporary boats goes back to around the 
eleventh century in this region. In the case of our incised 
drawings in the al Qubaysl mosque, they are late, given the 
likelihood that they are dated by the 1377/1946 graffito 
incised on the second drawing and the fact that the 
mosque is relatively recent. 

Although late, these incised drawings are an 
interesting indication of the longevity of a Gulf tradition 
of boat representation in the Islamic period that has been 
noted only very infrequently. 



The Dalma mosques and the Arabian 

building tradition 

The group of mosques at Dalma is a significant 
addition to the limited list of older mosques extant 
in eastern Arabia and the Gulf. Among these, the heavily 
altered Juwatha mosque in al Hasa', 17 an 'Abbasld 
mosque at Siraf (c. 200-2 10/8 15-82 5) 18 and a mosque at 
Suq al Khamis (740/1339^10) on Bahrain are the oldest 
known in the area." For later periods little has been 
published in detail, although along the eastern side of 
Arabia there are (or were) a number of old mosques 
extant until recent years. Thus, in Kuwait there are 
several mosques dating from between the late eighteenth 
and nineteenth centuries. 20 In eastern Saudi Arabia, in 
1984, there were three mosques of traditional type in al 
Qatlf; 21 three old mosques (all now demolished) at al 
Jubayl, 22 and a rather diverse group inland at al Hufuf. 23 
Several mosques have been recorded in Qatar, whose 
geographical proximity lends it particular importance for 
comparison with buildings on Dalma. 24 

Apart from the Dalma mosques in Abu Dhabi 
Emirate, there are no extant mosques of any age along 
the whole of the UAE coast until one reaches the 
Emirate of Ra's al Khaymah. Brief remarks were made on 
Ra's al Khaymah by W. Dostal summarizing the broad 
characteristics of mosques at Jazlrt al Hamra, Ra's al 
Khaymah and at Rams. 25 At Julfar, Ra's al Khaymah, a 
sequence of mosques dated from around the fourteenth 
to sixteenth centuries has been excavated by a British 
team directed by the present writer. 26 Several traditional 
mosques are found elsewhere in Ra's al Khaymah, 
notably at Jazlrt al Hamra and at al Falayyah. Further 
north in Oman at al Bukha' on the Musandam Peninsula 
is a well-preserved mosque, 27 while a very distinctive 
mosque survives at al Bidlya in the Emirate of Fujairah on 
the eastern side of the UAE. 28 However, this is a widely 
scattered body of diverse material, whereas the Dalma 
group of mosques is marked by its cohesion of design and 
decoration as well as its concentration in one place. 

While they vary in size, the Dalma mosques all con- 
form to a similar plan and distribution of their principal 
elements. Like the Bayt al Muraykhi, they all follow the 
pier-and-panel construction method found in much of 
Arabian coastal architecture and the architecture of the 
Indian Ocean littoral. Also like the architecture of coastal 
Arabia generally, their design is characterized by the 
extreme openness of the walls with the numerous windows 
supplemented by bad gir to ventilate the interior in the 
hot, humid summer months. The Dalma mosques also 
provide a point of departure for more general statements 
about the religious architecture of the region. 

The absence of a minaret 

In no instance at Dalma is there a minaret in the sense of 
a tower, nor is there a staircase to the roof of any of the 
prayer halls, in contradistinction to mosques of Siraf, 29 
al Jubayl 30 or Najd generally, where a roof staircase is 
common. 31 

When we first saw the al Muraykhi mosque in 1992, 
there was a prayer-call platform in the north-east corner 
of the courtyard of the mosque, built as one with the 
courtyard wall and to the height of the surrounding wall. 
It was removed in error during the restorations of 
1994. It was intended as a raised position whence to 
call the prayer and this explanation coincides with the 
role ascribed to such platforms elsewhere in Arabia. 
Furthermore, its location - on the right-hand side from 
the main entrance - corresponds to the position of 
similar prayer-call platforms in mosques elsewhere in the 
UAE and in Arabia. 

The longevity of the prayer-call platform tradition 
is hard to assess at present. The earliest recorded so far 
seems to be that already mentioned, made of sand-brick 
and found in mosques II and III at Julfar, probably of the 
fourteenth or fifteenth century. Its position corresponded 
to that of the platform in the al Muraykhi mosque. 



Elsewhere in the area, a similar platform occurs in the 
mosque at al Falayya, just outside Ra's al Khaymah and 
presumably of relatively late date. The evidence of the al 
Muraykhl mosque, Julfar mosques II and III and the al 
Falayya mosque suggests that the prayer-call platform of 
similar dimensions, and in this specific location in the 
mosque courtyard, was a feature of Gulf mosques from 
at least the fourteenth-fifteenth centuries. 

Such prayer-call platforms are by no means 
confined to the Gulf. They are relatively widespread in 
Arabia and are often to the right of a mosque's main 
entrance. Examples occur in places as widely scattered as 
the Asfal mosque atMasql in the highlands of 'Aslr, 32 the 
'Abbas mosque in Abu'l 'Arlsh 33 and the mosque of al 
Birk, the latter two on the Tihama coast of Saudi Arabia 
on the Red Sea. 34 

There are also numerous Arabian and Gulf mosques 
without a tower minaret of any sort. These include the 
two earliest Arabian mosques so far excavated at al 
Rabadha, near Madina and dated to around the eighth 
century and the ninth or tenth century. 35 The small 
mosques at Siraf on the Iranian coast of the Gulf of the 
ninth to twelfth century also lacked minarets. 36 G. S. P. 
Freeman-Grenville points out the extreme rarity of 
minaret towers in East Africa before the late nineteenth 
century, and notes the presence of an 'external staircase, 
sometimes part of the structure of the ablutions, from 
which the call to prayer was given': 37 what he describes 
matches closely the situation in Arabia, especially in the 
south-west and the Gulf, and to this degree it seems 
reasonable to see the paucity of minarets on the east 
African coast as being an echo of the Arabian tradition. 

One assumes that this tradition of excluding a 
minaret or replacing it with a platform is a conservative 
adherence to some little-known practice, preserved 
now mainly in Arabia and in East Africa, whose own 
architectural traditions generally reflect its close relation- 
ship with Arabian religious architecture. 

It is erroneous to associate the platform minaret or 
the absence of a tower minaret with particular Islamic 
groups. Thus, while Ibadl mosques in south-east Arabia 
lack minarets, mosques in non-Ibadl areas may also 
have no minarets. Nor is the inspiration derived from 

Wahhabism as has sometimes been suggested: platform 
minarets occur in areas which are not Wahhabl and have 
never been so, while there is no shortage of tower 
minarets in areas which are associated with the Wahhabls. 
Most persuasive in this latter respect is the absence of a 
minaret tower and the presence of a prayer-call platform 
in the Julfar mosque, dated to no later than the fifteenth 
century, as we have seen. This makes it quite clear that the 
Arabian mosque with a prayer-call platform long precedes 
the Wahhabl doctrines of the mid-eighteenth century. 
Instead, it seems reasonable to suspect that the tradition 
of dispensing with a minaret tower is seated deeply in 
Arabia's little-known architectural past. It will not be 
possible to draw any firm conclusion on the origin and 
antiquity of such platforms until more archaeological 
evidence emerges on the design of other early Arabian 

Prayer halls of the Dalma mosques 

Entry to all three Dalma mosques is solely through the 
courtyard which gives access to the prayer hall. There are 
no entrances directly from the exterior to the prayer 
halls. However, in both the al Qubaysl mosque and the 
small al Muhannadl mosque, it is possible to enter the 
courtyard through the hammam. 

In the al Muraykhl mosque, the entrance to the 
courtyard was offset to the south end of the east wall. 
While the al Qubaysl mosque had an entrance in a 
corresponding position beside the hammam, it alone 
among these mosques had an entrance in the north side 
of the courtyard. Only the al Muhannadl mosque had its 
main entrance more or less centrally placed on axis with 
the mihrab. 

Both the large al Qubaysl mosque and the small al 
Muhannadl mosque had a portico on the courtyard side, 
fronting their prayer halls. In both cases the porticoes 
had flanking walls opened by paired windows. In the case 
of the al Qubaysl mosque, columns supporting the portico 
roof bordered the courtyard. The portico roofing of the 
al Muhannadl mosque was also probably once supported 
by columns but by 1992 these had been replaced. The 
same portico arrangement in these two Dalma mosques 
was found in a mosque at al Khawr north of Doha in 



Qatar, dated 1373/1953-4, 38 and in the al Khalifa mosque 
and the al Dayj mosque in Kuwait. 39 More broadly, one is 
reminded of the porticoes that front Ottoman mosques 
and where prayer often takes place when the prayer hall is 

The interiors of the prayer halls are similarly treated 
in al Muraykhl mosque and al Qubaysl mosque, with a 
single colonnade in each case running parallel to the 
qiblah wall. This ordering of the interior is encountered 
throughout the region. This was the case in the oldest 
mosques in the area, the northern mosque of about the 
eighth century at al Rabadha, the 'Abbasid mosque at 
Siraf of about 2 00-2 1 0/8 1 5-82 5, 40 in the Juwatha mosque 
in al Hasa', the Suq al Khamls mosque in Bahrain, 
and the al Jabrl mosque of 820/1417 in al Hufuf. 41 The 
same design was followed, as far as one can estimate 
from foundations, in mosques III, IV and V at Julfar 
(fourteenth to sixteenth centuries). 42 In later mosques in 
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman a similar design was 
followed, including the lost mosques of al Jubayl in Saudi 
Arabia, the mosque at al Falayya in Ra's al Khaymah, 43 
the mosque at Jazlrt al Hamra in Ra's al Khaymah, and the 
Great Mosque of al Bukha' in the Musandam Peninsula 
in northern Oman, just north of the Ra's al Khaymah 
border. 44 

The mihrabs 

Although the three Dalma mosques all have one of the 
three doors to the prayer hall on line with the mihrab, the 
space between the colonnades in front of the mihrab is no 
greater than the span between other colonnades, so that 
there is no special emphasis in the ground plan on the 
mihrab axis. In this respect, these mosques correspond to 
the arrangement of those at al Khawr in Qatar, in the 
Jazlrt al Hamra mosque in Ra's al Khaymah, in the 
sequence of mosques at Julfar, and in the Great Mosque 
of al Bukha' in Musandam. Quite lacking at Dalma is 
the axial emphasis on the mihrab achieved by additional 
decoration and greater width of colonnading on the qiblah 
axis, such as that encountered in the old j 'ami' (Friday 
mosque) at al Jubayl, or the al Jabrl mosque at al Hufuf. 45 
The mihrab niches of the three mosques at Dalma 
are all differently treated. It is common in Arabia for 

mihrabs to form very large recesses marked by a 
correspondingly large projection on the exterior of 
the qiblah wall. The ground plans of the Dalma mihrabs 
consistently form a rectangular projection. 

The mihrab of al Qubaysl mosque is the only one of 
the group to have a minbar built into it. It was designed 
as a Friday mosque, a fact reflected in its greater size 
compared with the other mosques. The fixed minbar 
built into the right-hand part of the recess (facing) with 
the mihrab on the left is commonly encountered in 
Arabian mosques, although this arrangement has not 
been identified in any Peninsula mosques of early date. 
However, such mihrabs and minbars appear elsewhere in 
the UAE. The mosque at al Falayya in Ra's al Khaymah 
has a fixed minbar filling the right-hand half of the niche 
that houses the mihrab. The mosque at al Bidlya in 
Fujairah has a fixed minbar projecting from the qiblah 
wall, a variation on the theme described above. 46 This 
same minbar type also occurs in the sixteenth-century 
Ibrahim Pasha mosque in al Hufuf in Saudi Arabia, 
where a fixed minbar to the right of the mihrab projects 
from the qiblah wall. 47 Further afield in western and 
northern Arabia, fixed minbars inside or next to mihrabs 
are quite widespread. They occur in the al Shaf I mosque 
in Jidda, 48 the mosque at al Muwaylih on the northern 
Hijaz coast, at Dumat al Jandal in northern Najd in the 
post-1793-4 rebuilding of the mosque of 'Umar prayer 
hall 49 and in the Friday mosque at Sudus north of al 
Riyad in central Najd. 50 Outside Arabia, the fixed minbar 
was recorded by J. Schacht in East Africa where mosque 
design has much in common with Arabian architectural 
traditions, as we have already seen. 51 

The mihrabs of al Muraykhl mosque and of the 
al Muhannadl mosque are quite different. Both are 
distinguished by their decoration: the accentuation of a 
mihrab by decoration is a long-standing feature of the 
Islamic architectural tradition. The al Muraykhl mosque 
recalls the treatment of mihrabs in Iraq and Iran, the 
succession of rectangular decorative frames around the 
mihrab niche being a design of considerable antiquity in 
Islamic architecture. Such rectangular frames developed 
in the Islamic east at an early date, and thereafter became 
a staple feature of eastern Islamic architecture. 



The deep recesses of all three mihrabs at the Dalma 
mosques are very similar to each other, with their square 
ground plans and their barrel-vaulted roofing. The 
mosque of al Muraykhl alone is distinguished by the 
curious column stub that surmounts the barrel vault. 
This writer is not aware of any parallels for such a feature 
among the mosques of the Arabian coast or interior. 

The mihrab of the al Muhannadl mosque is 
accentuated by the use of decorative plaster screens of a 
type that belong to the repertoire of pierced plaster 
screens that are commonly found in Gulf architecture. 
The panels above the mihrab of the al Muhannadl 
mosque are distinguished from others in the building by 
their greater complexity and the foundation inscription. 
This accentuation of the mihrab is a feature common in 
mosque architecture generally but here it is executed 
entirely in terms of Gulf decorative traditions. 

In the al Muraykhl and the al Qubaysl mosques 
the mihrab interiors are ventilated with bad girs, a 
practical response to the oppressive summer climate and 
a necessary relief for the individual leading prayers and 
those at the front of the mosque. The mihrab projection 
has the effect of providing three separate surfaces to 
benefit from whatever breeze strikes the mihrab, whether 
from the north, west or south. This writer is unaware of 
this use of the badglr elsewhere. 

Ablution facilities 

In both the al Qubaysl mosque and the al Muhannadl 
mosque, the ablution facilities are located against 
the exterior of the south wall at the east end. During 
restoration of the al Muraykhl mosque by the Sharjah 
Department of Antiquities in 1994, wall foundations 
exposed in the same relative location by the restorers 
suggested to them a similar ablution facility which they 
proceeded to build to what they assessed as its original 
height. There had been no sign of this hammam at 
surface level in 1 992 . 

The location of ablution facilities is a subject 
that has not been properly researched in the study of 
mosques generally and it is hard to make any broad 
comment on the basis of the Dalma mosques. However, 
the consistency of the hammam location in the al 

Muhannadl and the al Qubaysl mosques is of interest. 
The position conforms with the need to provide ablution 
facilities adjacent to the mosque, separate from but close 
to the enclosure, and placed as far as possible from the 
qiblah wall. The location of the hammam to the left of the 
entrance to the courtyard may be a matter of some note, 
given the negative associations of the left hand. 

Throughout the Gulf countries, the ever-increasing 
pace of modernization has been accompanied by the loss 
of the fragile architecture of earlier centuries, and this 
has been as much the case in the UAE as elsewhere 
in the region. Piety tends to ensure that mosques are 
among the first buildings to be modernized or rebuilt, 
while properly values and a desire for the comforts 
of modernity equally rapidly lead to the rebuilding of 
traditional structures like the Bayt al Muraykhl. As a 
result, decreasing numbers of old houses and mosques 
survive in Arabia as a whole and it is rare now in the Gulf 
to find extant a group of traditional buildings like those 
in Dalma, related closely in date and style. This loss 
underlines the importance of the survival of these 
Islamic vernacular buildings on the island. The survival of 
a distinctive and related group of late-Islamic buildings 
at Dalma is fortunate and their conservation in 1993-4 
is especially welcome, providing as they do rare evidence 
of the architectural traditions of Abu Dhabi Emirate in 
the past and their relationship with Gulf architecture as 
a whole. 




Keith Olroyd-Robinson 

The district of al Bastakiyyah in Dubai lies on the 
southern side of the creek, to the east of the old suq 
as shown above. Al Bastakiyyah is the last coherent group 
of traditional buildings and windtower houses in the 
United Arab Emirates; other comparable sites have 
been overtaken by modern development and are now less 
significant and complete than al Bastakiyyah. Although 
not very old, the remaining group of houses at al 
Bastakiyyah reflects the long trading history of Dubai and 
forms a magnificent urban and architectural ensemble in 
total contrast to the modern city. 

As with all rapidly expanding cities, Dubai's growth 
has meant the loss of historic buildings and traditions. 
However, under the guidance of Shaykh Rashid bin 
Sa'ld Al Maktum, the first town plan in 1958 for Dubai, 
prepared by John R. Harris Architects, allowed for 
the preservation of al Bastakiyyah. A major review of 
the town plan was undertaken in 1971, again by John 
R. Harris Architects which included a survey of old 
buildings worthy of preservation and restoration. As 
part of that survey a monograph was published on al 
Bastakiyyah entitled A Windtower House in Dubai by 



Alison Coles and Peter Jackson. Since the 1980s the 
Dubai Municipality has attached increasing importance 
to the conservation of the architectural heritage of the 
city and its surrounding areas, and its Archaeological 
Buildings Restoration Unit was established in 1991. In 

the first phase of the conservation programme in al 
Bastakiyyah this writer was appointed as the consultant 
to carry out a survey of the buildings, study the archi- 
tectural planning and propose a work programme for 
the restoration of the area. 

The history of Dubai 

Dubai lies towards the eastern end of the Gulf, on 
one of the world's oldest trading routes. In the 
past, fishing and the pearl trade supplemented date palm 
cultivation as the main economic activity. Archaeological 
excavations on the island of Umm al Nar near the bridge 
to Abu Dhabi Island and at several sites in or around the 
mountains have revealed remains of settlements from 
the third millennium BC. 1 Before the arrival of the 
Portuguese, the Arab tribes actively traded in the Gulf 
ports and, with the development of European trade to 
the Far East in the sixteenth century, the Gulf became 
increasingly more important. In the eighteenth century 
Dubai was a small fishing village and the first references 
to it in British India Office records of 1799 and 1820 
note the fortifications there. 2 

However, it was in 1833 that the foundations of 
modern Dubai were laid when the Al Bu Falash section of 
the Bam Yas tribe from Abu Dhabi territory, numbering 
around 800 people, migrated to Dubai, which was then a 
small fishing village, and built settlements along the 
creek. Dubai had the advantage that its creek extended 
further inland than others in the area. At that time the 
creek was the dividing line between the Al Bu Falash and 
Qasiml tribes. Although the latter half of the nineteenth 
century was a period of political and economic un- 
certainty for Dubai, trade grew steadily, if fitfully, in 
pearls, fish and firearms. 

At the beginning of the last century, the population 
of Dubai was about 10,000 and consisted of three 
main areas: Shandaghah, an exclusively Arab area which 
comprised 250 houses; Dubai, populated by the Indian 

community- Khoj ah and Hindu, which developed as the 
more important of the two western quarters probably as 
a result of its superior offloading facilities; and Dayrah, 
by far the largest settlement, with a mixed community of 
Arabs, Persians and Baluchis. 

Dubai was one of many ports in the Gulf and 
Shaykh Maktum bin Hashar (1894-1906) undertook a 
number of fiscal policies to encourage traders to take 
advantage of its commercial potential. In 1902 a law 
introducing very high taxes for imports and exports 
going through the Persian ports resulted in Sunni 
merchants migrating en masse to Dubai where they 
established a trading base. Goods from India were 
shipped direct to Dubai for re-export to the Arab 
shaykhdoms as well as to Persia and further afield. In 
1 900 the Shaykh signed a contract with the British India 
Steam Navigation Company for their steamers to call at 
Dubai and, by 1904/5, British ships were discharging 
over 70,000 tons of cargo a year in Dubai. This was also 
a boom period for the pearl-fishing industry. 

By 1925 Persian taxes had become even more 
onerous and were seen to be permanent. Consequently 
the Sunni merchants who had initially taken up temporary 
residence in Dubai accepted Shaykh Sa'ld bin Maktum 's 
offer to settle permanently in Dubai and bring their fam- 
ilies over.' These merchants of mixed origins were given 
an area of land immediately to the east of al Fahldl Fort 4 
on which to build themselves houses. 'It was an ideal site 
for a merchant community; close to the creek's edge where 
dhows unloaded, close to the market where business was 
conducted.' 5 The district became known as al Bastakiyyah 



as many of the merchants who settled there came from the 
port of Khamlr in the Bastak district in southern Persia. 
The influx of wealthy merchants led to the creation of an 
architecturally rich neighbourhood with a multiplicity of 
windtower houses, similar to existing buildings in the 
main city quarters of Dubai, Dayrah and Shandaghah. 

The pearl-fishing trade went into decline in the 
1930s due to expansion of the cultured-pearl industry, and 
World War II itself led to a downturn in the economy 
which did not improve again until the mid- 1 950s. In 1 93 7 
an agreement was signed with British Imperial Airways 
for their flying boats to land on the creek on their way to 
Australia, and this gave Dubai another fillip. Dubai 
had more 'stamina' than other ports in the region and 
managed to keep going, relying almost entirely on trade. 

Until 1955 customs tax was collected by officials 
appointed by the Ruler, who used the first floor of the 
Jumruk, next to his summer palace in Dubai overlooking 
the creek, as an office. All trading goods were brought 
ashore nearby. In 1951, Gray Mackenzie and Co., the 
shipping agent, erected a crane by their office, and ware- 
houses developed along the creek up to al Bastakiyyah. 
In order to make further improvements in port facilities, 
in 1954 the Ruler appointed Sir William Halcrow and 

Partners, a British firm of consultants, to advise on 
dredging the creek. In 1958 Shaykh Rashid bin Sa'ld 
succeeded as Ruler, and shortly afterwards appointed a 
British firm of architects and town planners, John R. 
Harris Architects, to prepare a town plan for Dubai. 6 A 
new port office and warehouses were erected on the land 
reclaimed between al Bastakiyyah and the creek and al 
Bastakiyyah itself was zoned as a residential area. 

Oil, first found in the Trucial States in 1958, was 
discovered offshore from Dubai in June 1966 and exports 
began in 1969. This rapidly accelerated the pace of change 
and growth in Dubai and its population increased from 
59,000 in 1967 to 120,000 in 1973. 7 In less than twenty 
years Dubai was transformed. The rise in imported 
goods reflected the dramatic rise in Dubai's size: imports 
in 1958 amounted to three million pounds but had risen 
to 42 million pounds just nine years later. Travel by 
donkey and camel quickly diminished when the first 
roads were built in the early 1960s and the first 
road crossing of the creek, the Al Maktum bridge, 
was completed in 1963. With the Emirate's economic 
diversification and industrial growth, the population of 
Dubai continued to increase rapidly: from 278,000 in 
1980 to 640,000 according to the 1993 census. 

The development of Al Bastakiyyah 

The first settlers in al Bastakiyyah appear to have 
arrived around the turn of the last century and 
probably lived in palm frond or barasti houses close to 
the present location of the Grand Mosque. No records 
are available on the early development of al Bastakiyyah, 
but it must be assumed that the area underwent rapid 
development from 1 92 5 with the arrival of the Sunnite 
merchants up until the economic recession in the 1930s, 
and that many of the coral windtower houses were 
completed during this period. These were mainly built 
by merchants, whose businesses and stores were located 
in the suq nearby. Some buildings had rooms specifically 

reserved for visitors coming to conduct business and 
there were also a number of small shops catering for local 

The earliest aerial photographs available of al 
Bastakiyyah are oblique views dating from around 1950; 
unfortunately the more detailed aerial photographs from 
the same date do not show al Bastakiyyah and only the 
extent of the built-up area can be picked out from 
the overall broader scale views. Vertical and other aerial 
photographs exist for the later 1950s and 1960s, but are 
not precisely dated and suffer from a lack of clarity. 
However, from these it is possible to provide a fairly clear 



picture of al Bastakiyyah in 1950 and of the changes 
it underwent between 1950 and 1970. There are few 
detailed records and photographs of the area earlier than 

The first buildings of al Bastakiyyah developed, as 
might be expected, close to the end of the palace and 
along the creekside. The only exceptions appear to be 
three large houses with porches that were built on the 
south side of the area overlooking the desert. These plots 
still exist, whilst most of the earlier development in this 
area has been demolished. Substantially built properties 
are concentrated in the north-west of the area. The 
remainder were developed with compounds, mainly 
from barasti buildings, although often within block-built 
compound walls rather than a barasti enclosure. Some of 
these were individual houses, though some appear to 
have been 'attached' to larger houses as backyards or for 

Q^ Buildin; 

Barasti compounds 

J Courtyard/internal space 
J Study area boundary 


Bastakiyyah in 1950 

keeping animals in. In total there were over fifty 
substantial houses, nearly all with windtowers, and forty 
or more compound plots. 

The illustration above shows al Bastakiyyah as it was 
in 1950. From this can be seen the extent of al Bastakiyyah 
in relation to the Dubai suq area and the Ruler's 
palace/port office complex. Particularly noticeable is the 
large open area surrounding the al Fahldl Fort, which 
extends up to the watchtower, controlling the approach 

New buildings 
iarasti compounds removed 

J New road 

~1 Study area boundary 


Bastakiyyah changes, 1950 to 1970 

to Dubai, and presumably dictated the western boundary 
of al Bastakiyyah. From this it can be appreciated that al 
Bastakiyyah developed as a separate and compact district 
only linked directly to the palace/port area along the 

The main changes that occurred to the structure 
and fabric of al Bastakiyyah between 1950 and 1970 can 
be discerned in the illustration above. There were three 
principal changes. Firstly, the expansion of port facilities 
- initially in the palace area which later extended east 
along the creek - followed by land reclamation and con- 
struction of the port office and warehouses. Secondly, the 
development of roads, to the east but particularly to the 
north of al Bastakiyyah, which further separated the area 
from the creek. Thirdly, the increasing wealth of the 
inhabitants which saw the construction of substantial 
buildings on plots that had previously been barasti 
compounds. Some of these were built to traditional 
designs and included windtowers, but others were built 
in modern styles. Reinforced concrete structures were 
used for some buildings, including houses with windtowers 
(for example plot 15A). At the same time some of the 
barasti compounds were abandoned, leaving open spaces 
in the previously fully occupied area. Development in the 
previously open area between al Bastakiyyah and the 
Fort was underway and the watchtower was demolished. 




■-----'-;■;'" m»i 


Demolished courtyard buildings 

J Study area boundary 


Bastakiyyah in 1994 

Looking at al Bastakiyyah more recently there have 
been two further major changes in that time. Firstly, the 
gradual abandonment of the district over the past ten 
years by the original occupiers, as they moved to new 
homes outside al Bastakiyyah with modern facilities, such 
as air-conditioning and immediate car access - facilities 
that are difficult to provide within the existing infra- 
structure. Secondly there has been extensive demolition 
within the district of many of the oldest and largest 
houses, due to the Diwan development, and altogether 
some twenty houses have been lost. Two of the oldest in 
the eastern sector were demolished, one because the 
structure had become dangerous and the other to make 
way for a road scheme. 

The courtyard house 

Many of the houses in al Bastakiyyah were originally 
barasti or palm frond structures within a barasti 
enclosure or compound wall. With increasing affluence, 
coral or later tabuq (sea-sand lime blocks) replaced these 
flimsy structures. The houses are typically single storey, 
with a courtyard and a windtower cooling a ground-floor 
room and a screened roof terrace for sleeping in summer. 
The height of the roof-terrace screen wall tends to give 
the impression of a two-storey building. In the larger 
houses, a summer roof room and loggia would be added 
to the first floor, and in a few cases (for example plots 87 
and 122) there was also a first-floor windtower connected 
to a loggia as well as a ground-floor windtower room. On 
the whole though, the houses are not as large as they 
appear and are distinctive in that they look outwards 
as well as to the courtyard, with window screens or the 
loggia arches and sometimes a balcony overlooking 
the sikkah or street. However, the defining architectural 
concept behind all these houses is one of providing 
maximum privacy for the family from the outside world. 
The only external openings are the separate family 

entrance (in larger houses) and small ventilation 
openings. In contrast, the public areas for visitors, the 
majlis and sometimes the guest room have windows 
opening onto the sikkah with, in larger houses, a main 

The houses of al Bastakiyyah vary in layout and 
detail, but most follow the basic principle of an enclosed 
private family area centred around a courtyard, with a 
separate area including a majlis for visitors. In detail, the 
houses would vary with individual needs, the wealth of 
the family, the particular shape, size and location of the 
plot, and they would invariably be adapted to meet 
changing family needs from time to time. Suites for all 
generations, grandparents, married sons and children 
were provided and new houses would be built alongside 
on the family plot, if space allowed, or, if not, on nearby 
sites. Consequently, the original layout and uses of rooms 
may have changed and what exists today is a particular 
stage in the ongoing evolution of a house, the older ones 
perhaps much changed, some of the newer ones never 
fully completed and decorated. 



The Islamic tradition is for residential quarters to 
be formed of relatively small homogeneous communities 
with common religious, ethnic or occupational ties. 
Distinct quarters were often built by migrants sharing 
common origins, and were not divided by status, so that 
the rich and poor lived alongside each other in a social 
microcosm. The distinct demarcation between public 
and private life is an essential element of all Islamic 
communities: within the home there are degrees of privacy, 

with reception areas for visitors and family guests and 
the family sanctum. These divisions are expressed 
architecturally in the traditional courtyard house, and 
constitute the most important social aspect of domestic 
Islamic culture. The house is conceived from the inside 
outwards, with the main decorative emphasis on interior 
elements such as the courtyard fagade, whilst the street 
facade is usually relatively plain. The courtyard is the focus 
of every day life in the house as well as for social events. 

Climatic design 

The hot climate of the Gulf was a major factor 
in the design of the al Bastakiyyah houses, and 
measures to overcome the dust, wind, sun and rain had 
to be incorporated into buildings. During the summer 
the climate is disagreeably hot, often between 3 8°C and 
49°C and with high humidity. In winter the climate is 
much more pleasant with temperatures between 13°C 
and 1 6°C with lower humidity. Rainfall in Dubai is no 
more than 50 millimetres per year. 

In hot and humid climates cooling, which is best 
achieved by ventilation, is of primary importance and a 
variety of screens were used to achieve this in the form of 
diagonal or louvreed timber strips, wrought iron and 
cast plaster or claustra. Screens provide the dominant 
decorative feature within the buildings, in particular the 
geometric and botanical designs of the carved wood and 
claustra and are themselves functional ventilators. In addi- 
tion their effect is to 'create a degree of privacy across the 
house between different family zones, breaking up shapes 
and movement into a network of light and shade. The 
plaster and metal screens above the doors and windows of 
the ground floor ventilate the stores and winter rooms, 
allowing smoke and hot or stale air to escape from the 
latter.' 8 Openings were unglazed and wooden shutters were 
used when necessary to shut out strong dust-laden winds. 

The windscoop or ventilating screen is the simplest 
form of ventilator used in hot regions. These are flat 

fagade screens placed as high up as possible on the outside 
walls, slightly offset to create an interior cavity to 'catch' 
the wind and direct it down into the room or space inside, 
at the level of people sitting on the floor. According to 
Alison Coles and Peter Jackson, 'There is a timber close 
that can be slid across the gap to eliminate the draught 
if necessary. A spyhole often appears as a feature at 
head height. Like the windtowers, these modesty screens 
are sometimes known as "bad glr" or "windcatchers", 
although they are more properly called bad kash." 9 

The windtower is a more sophisticated device, 
designed to cope with seasonal or diurnal changes in the 
direction of the prevailing wind. 'The land breeze is from 
the desert; its air is light, dry and often hot. In contrast, 
the sea breeze which blows in the afternoon is both cool 
and strong, although it is humid and tangy with the 
smells of the seashore. These windtowers only work if a 
wind is blowing; there is quite often a period of calm 
from about 7 p.m. to about 2 a.m. ... Windtowers 
on two-storey buildings often rise about 15 metres 
above the ground. At this height wind velocity is about 
one-and-a-half times greater than at 1 metre above 
ground level. At least half the length of the windtower.' 10 
Multi-directional coolers were described by Marco Polo 
when he passed through Hormuz in the late thirteenth 
century: 'The ventilators are set to face the quarter from 
which the wind blows and let it blow into the house." 1 



salafa panel 

salafa panel 


Internal elevation 

Section A-A 


The square external face of the windtower is of 
loadbearing construction, usually using lightweight coral 
lumps for the columns (although at least one example is 
of reinforced concrete). The towers are reinforced and 
strengthened by a series of horizontal shandal poles, 
whose projecting ends served as scaffolding. There is no 
vertical timber framework. It has a vertically aligned 
x-configuration of internal planes using a panel system of 
salafa slabs supported on shandal wood which catch the 
breeze and act as a funnel, accelerating the descending 
air into the room below. The downward flow is balanced 
by an up-draught of stale hot air on the leeward shaft. 
The bottom of the tower would stop about 2 metres 
above floor level allowing people to sit on cushions or 
sleep in the moving air under the tower. In winter the 
windtowers would be closed off with wooden shutters. In 
some two-storey houses the windtower would ventilate a 
first-floor summer room, but in al Bastakiyyah nearly all 
ventilated a ground-floor room. 

Insulation also helps to ease the excessive tempera- 
tures and coral was one of the main materials used in 
al Bastakiyyah. Not only is it one of the few building 
materials available in Dubai, but it also possesses good 
insulation properties (having many cavities), and this, 
combined with the thickness of the walls, assists in 
temperature control - cooling in summer and retaining 
heat in the winter. 

The traditional use of rooms in the al Bastakiyyah 
houses is flexible, characterized by changing diurnal and 

Far left 

Typical windscoop detail 

Left and below 

Illustration shows windtowers 

. -i»«c*ffi 

seasonal patterns of use. A colonnade or arcade situated on 
one or more sides of the courtyard provides an outdoor 
living area shaded from the hot sun in summer and 
maintains warmth in winter. The low rainfall permits the 
use of flat roofs, which double as summer living space. 

There is little through draught in ground floor 
living rooms; because of the need for privacy and 
security only a few small high level ventilation 
holes pierce the external walls. At first floor level 
the outside walls often have modesty panels, and 
the arches above the display shelves may be 
of perforated plaster work. The air is cooler and 
less dusty than at street level, and there is less 
radiation and glare from the courtyard. In many of 
the Bastakiyyah houses the windtowers terminate 
in first floor rooms, but where they are used to 
cool a ground floor room there is obviously less 
need for migration. 12 



Plot 43 


n existing medium-sized house on plot 43 is contains most of the important elements found in both 

described below in detail and illustrated below as it large and small al Bastakiyyah houses. 


Ground-floor plan 


First-floor plan 



Section looking south 

South elevation 

North elevation 

The public (or visitor) area 

The layout of the house on plot 43 shows exception- 
ally clearly defined public and family areas. The 
public suite comprises the entrance hall, the majlis, the 
guest room and bathroom. The exterior majlis consists 
of a small terrace outside the porch and is used as an 
informal meeting place for neighbours. It is not a common 
feature, but was provided in some of the larger houses; 
only this one has been identified in what remains of al 
Bastakiyyah. The porch with seats each side is the main 
entrance for non-family and business visitors. Only the 
larger houses had porches and there are five remaining 
examples in al Bastakiyyah. There is a masonry wall 
across this example, which may have been incorporated 
to keep out high tides or blown sand. In houses closer to 
the creek, which are more vulnerable to exceptionally 
high tides, the ground floors are blank. 

The main door is a typical studded double door. 
The entrance hall has an entrance to the majlis and the 
guest room. The principal room for entertaining guests is 
the majlis which has externally facing windows on two 
sides. 'Prominent families in Dubai traditionally "sit" or 
hold open house in their majlis in the evening . . . The 
floor of the majlis is often a few feet above ground level 
at the same height as the bottom of the large windows so 
that guests seated on the carpets are assured of maximum 
breeze." 3 The guest room, which has an externally facing 
window, is used for overnight guests and for dining. 
Virtually all the houses in al Bastakiyyah have a formal 
majlis but only the larger houses have guest rooms or a 
separate bathroom for visitors. A lobby from the hall 
gives access to the bathroom, and through a normally 
closed door to the family quarters. 

Some of the houses of al Bastakiyyah included 
merchants' stores and offices, although general business 
would be conducted in the majlis. In this particular 
house, a shop was incorporated in the north-east corner, 
with direct access to the family entrance. Outside is a 
stone seat for the shopkeeper. There are simple double 
doors, rather than the more common four-leaf doors of 
suq shops. Shuttered windows face the sikkah. 

East elevation 



The family area 

The family entrance to the house is a more modest 
door leading via a lobby to the courtyard. This 
example is a fairly direct route; in other houses the 
entrance door was designed to avoid direct views of the 
courtyard. According to Alison Coles and Peter Jackson's 
study 'the back door opens on to the shaded narrow 
alleys of the al Bastakiyyah quarter. This door is used by 
the women when they are on their own. They move 
comparatively freely within the secluded streets of the 
neighbourhood and evening visiting is an established 
social custom.' 14 Above the entrance is a mezzanine store, 
accessible by ladder. The courtyard itself is medium- 
sized and originally had a tree in the centre. The main 
veranda, where the women of the family gathered in the 
morning and evening, is wide and gives access to the 
windtower room and a family room. On the opposite 
side of the courtyard is a narrower veranda which gives 
access to the main family suite and provides shade for the 
rooms from direct sunlight. The windtower room is 
typical of an al Bastakiyyah ground-floor windtower; it 
was used in hot weather and was where the family sat on 
cushions or slept and was closed off during the winter. 

The family rooms, arranged around the courtyard, 
were used both day and night, unless the weather was 


Typical courtyard detail 

very hot in which case the roof was used for sleeping. 
The more important family members would have had a 
suite of rooms. Each member of the family or married 
couple had a room with a connecting bathroom. On the 
first floor is a family summer room with windows facing 
outside fronted by a loggia. Additional rooms for the 
expanding family were built when necessary and a good 
example is the roof extension on this building which was 
built perhaps 15 years ago. 

The main bathroom adjoining the family entrance 
and serving the main family suite still retains a fine 
example of the traditional screen wall which stops just 
below the ceiling. All the rooms have niches at different 
levels for everyday objects. The kitchen and service area 
is situated on one side of the courtyard, conveniently 
close to the entrance and door into the majlis wing. The 
kitchen faces the courtyard, with a dishwashing room 
at the rear and a back kitchen area which may have 
contained a well. In al Bastakiyyah 

the wells (chaah) are only a few metres deep and 
because of the proximity of the creek the water 
is brackish. In the past householders arranged 
for sweet water for drinking to be delivered by 
donkey ... Well water can be raised to the first 
floor overhead by pulley . . . Traditionally, cooking 
was done at ground floor level using wood or 
charcoal as fuel. The roofs of the older kitchens 
imatbakh) are still blackened with smoke ... 
Normally, the men shopped for fresh food in the 
early morning. The women often prepared the 
food for cooking on the verandah or while sitting 
together in the courtyard, rather than in the less 
pleasant conditions of the kitchens. 15 

The mezzanine floor over the service area is 
approached by stairs and would have contained stores for 
dates and onions. 

In the past the middle class families of the 
Bastakiyyah required considerable storage space for 
household necessities. Most of their supplies came 
from afar and were only seasonably available. Many 



foods could only be bought cheaply immediately 
after harvest, and vagaries in the weather could affect 
the arrival of imports by sailing dhow. Moreover, 
although the merchants had business premises in the 
market, rooms in their house have often been used 
as extra warehouses for storing goods. 16 

The main stairs to the first floor are a typical U 
shape, with two spyholes or vents looking out over the 

courtyard. The columned roof loggia, at the head of the 
stairs, was used as a shaded sitting area in the hot summer 
months. This leads into a summer family room, with 
windows on both sides. The screened roof forms an open 
but private roof terrace screened by high parapet walls. 
Some houses have bad gir at this level. Over the front is 
a newer family room and bathroom added to meet 
expanding family needs. 

Construction methods 

The merchant houses of al Bastakiyyah are heavy 
masonry structures built on the beam and column 
principle. They were individually designed around 
evolving family requirements on a plot allocated to the 
family by the ruling shaykh. The building would be 
planned and built by about three masons, with nine or 
ten labourers, and two carpenters as and when they were 
required.' 17 

Foundations were usually between 1-1.5 metres 
wide and 1-1.5 metres deep. They were built of sea-stone 
or, occasionally, imported stone. Walls and piers were 
constructed of coral, shell-stone and blocks. Coral walls 
were usually three blocks wide to give a wall thickness of 
approximately 600 millimetres. According to Alison Coles 
and Peter Jackson's study: 'The finer masonry is built of 
slabs of limestone 2-3 centimetres thick and about 20-30 
centimetres across, which are laid on edge in a diagonal 
pattern. The slabs are used to form partitions, the 
modesty screens along the first floor perimeter and the 
high diagonal cross-walls of the windtowers.' 18 Decorative 
columns were sometimes made by binding three or four 
shandal poles together after which they were plastered. 

The first floor and roof structure was supported on 
either round shandal poles or rectangular timber joists. 
Shandal poles were used for ceiling joists and lintels in 
the earlier buildings and were often left projecting to 
provide maintenance scaffolding, or the full length could 

be reused if the timber outlived the remainder of the 
building. For lintels, the poles were bound with coir 
string (hemp chords) to give a key for plastering. The 
average length of the poles of 10-12 feet restricted the 
width of rooms; occasionally hardwood beams were used 
to achieve greater spans - when they could be afforded, 
or more recently as they have become more widely 
available. 19 Palm ribs and sometimes split bamboo were 
laid diagonally over joists to support palm matting. Palm 
frond matting was used as the ceiling finish and support 
for the gypsum/lime/mud/clay floor or ceiling above. 
This was the cheapest and original method but wooden 
planks were used in preference to palm ribs/frond 
matting for ceilings and floors when it could be afforded, 
and this method became more commonly used later. 
According to Alison Coles and Peter Jackson, 'Where 
ceilings are required in living or reception rooms, timber 
boarding is pinned to the underside of the [poles 
or beams], often with decorative plaster cornices or 
scalloped, painted timber edging.' 20 

White gypsum was used for high-quality finishes on 
internal plasterwork and incised decorative panels or 
screens: 'the intricate screens and the elaborate arch 
facings . . . are cast on the ground in wooden moulds and 
dry quickly in the sun before being lifted into place. The 
arch facings are in two pairs, left and right, which are 
spaced about 25 centimetres apart, the gap being filled 



with coral and plaster. No further framework is required 
as the paste dries so quickly.' 21 

The roofs were laid to a slight slope to aid drainage 
and then finished with lime mortar. Lime mortar was also 
used for waterproofing drainage channels. Simple water 
chutes or gargoyles conduct the water away from the 
walls onto the sand. Where the space between buildings 
is restricted, water channels were cut into the external 
wall allowing the rain water to run directly to ground. 


Three main building materials are used throughout 
al Bastakiyyah: coral and shell-stone, which gener- 
ally appears in the oldest houses; sand and lime block 
or tabuq, which was used concurrently with coral for 
many years and then took over as the main material; and 
concrete blockwork and reinforced concrete which was 
adopted in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Coral was taken from nearby reefs and left in 
the sun for a few weeks to reduce its salt content. 22 It 
was considered to be the best building material but was 
expensive. It was nearly always used for windtowers 
because of its lightness (it floats when it is dry). Its cellular 
quality also gives it good thermal insulation value. The 
scarcity of coral means that in general the older the wall the 
larger the lumps. Shell-stone/sea-stone was collected 
from along the creek at low tide. Large lumps were broken 
up in situ into smaller lumps. It is denser than coral but is 
equally strong and was more commonly used than coral, 
particularly for foundations. Thin flat sea-stone slabs, 
salafa, were also taken from the edge of the creek at low 
tide where they occur naturally. The top surface of this 
stone is worn flat by the action of the sea and presents a 
ready-made finish. The underside of the slabs, which could 
be 1 5 centimetres or more thick, was then chiselled away 
to leave a slab about 5-7.5 centimetres thick. The slabs 
were used for facing, for in-fill panels and windscoops and 
in particular for the internal cross-vanes of windtowers. 

Sea-sand lime blocks, tabuq, were the forerunner of 
modern concrete blocks and were made with unsieved sea- 
sand, including small pebbles and shells, mixed with lime 
and later cement. The salt content makes them friable, and 
they were often used higher up in buildings where they 

would be less prone to rising damp. The blocks are 
approximately 30x20x20 centimetres. Much cheaper 
than coral, the blocks were used from the 1 940s onwards 
until the advent of more modern techniques and materials. 
Originally they were individually handmade, being pressed 
in the morning, sprayed with water in the afternoon and 
then left to dry ready for use the next day; at a later date 
they were machine made. The colour varies from sand to 
a greyer colour, which may reflect the mix ratio of sand to 
lime or cement, the sandier-coloured ones appearing to be 
the earlier blocks. Some blocks can be seen to contain small 
lumps of coral (for example plot 12 1) and this may have 
been to provide extra strength and to use up surplus small 
fragments. Concrete blocks eventually replaced tabuq and 
are still used extensively for extensions and repairs. 

A variety of mortars are used, subject to cost and 
availability, each mortar having its own slightly different 
properties and uses. The lower parts of the buildings 
were generally rendered with sarflj mortar in order to 
counteract rising damp and salt-water penetration as it 
has excellent waterproofing properties. Most sarflj was 
imported from Iran and was made by mixing red clay 
and manure which was then dried and baked in a kiln. 
Gypsum was used both as mortar and render. It was dug 
from the salt marshes at the end of the creek and fired or 
baked as required. Cement was introduced in the 1950s 
and was used extensively for rendering and mortar. It was 
easier to use than gypsum but sometimes fails to bond 
well with older materials and, according to Alison Coles 
and Peter Jackson, l Saruj is stronger than gypsum and 
better than cement ... as it does not increase the thermal 
conductivity of the masonry. Consequently the internal 
wall surfaces remain cool.' 23 

Structural timber of various kinds was used in 
different parts of the building. Shandal, or mangrove, are 
round hardwood poles imported from East Africa or 
the Malibar coast of India. Tamarisk was sometimes 
substituted and rectangular timber was introduced at a 
later date for joists and other uses, replacing the shandal. 
Occasionally hardwood beams were used to achieve 
greater spans and thus bigger rooms than was possible 
with shandal. Imported hardwood, mainly from India, 
was used for doors, window frames and shutters. 



Occasionally it was used for decorative pierced screens. 
Locally available palm trunks were sometimes used as an 
alternative to shandal poles for lintels. They were a cheaper 
alternative, being freely available locally, but palm being a 
softwood was not as strong as shandal. Palm fronds were 

also used in the simplest and cheapest traditional method 
of construction known as barasti which was used for 
poorer houses, outbuildings and enclosures - none now 
remains in al Bastakiyyah. Barasti was made from shandal 
poles and palm fronds bound together with string. 

Architectural interest 

The main interest in al Bastakiyyah lies in the architec- 
ture of the buildings, particularly the windtowers and 
a number of other elements such as balconies, windcatchers 
and majlis windows which make up the visual character 
of the area. Because of the courtyard layout, much of the 
decorative visual interest and architectural merit of the 
buildings is only visible from within, and visitors have 
to enter the private courtyard spaces in order to fully 
appreciate the quality of each building. For this reason, the 
architectural features of the buildings have been analysed 
in three categories: those visible from outside the building; 
features visible from the courtyard; and interior features. 

External features 

The illustration to the right shows the main external 
features of interest; the older coral buildings 
generally have more of these than the newer buildings. 
The main external architectural features are: the remaining 
25 windtowers which dominate the skyline; porches on 
plots 19, 43, 63 and 122; balconies on 13 plots; majlis 
windows (though many of these are blocked up or in 
poor condition); main doors; windscoops; and external 
panelled walls. In addition there are occasional smaller 
features such as doors, foul drainage outlets, water 
chutes, and ventilation openings. 

Windtowers are most commonly situated on the 
corner of a house and form an important element of 
the street scene, rising up to 15 metres on two-storey 
houses. They are characterized by their great variety of 
architectural detail and vary from two to three tiers high 
and between two and six or more bays across. The only 

Windtower | Balcony 

| Porch | Majlis windows 

Good-quality traditional facade 
Secondary-quality traditional facade 


External architectural features 

remaining three-tier windtower is on plot 69, though 
this is now in very poor condition, having once been 
one of the finest in al Bastakiyyah. Nearly all of the 
windtowers have decorative plaster arches between the 
piers and two (plots 69 and 121) have plaster finials on 
top. Research from aerial photographs taken in 1978 
shows that plot 87 had two windtowers which have since 
been demolished. It may be desirable to rebuild these 
when restoration of the area takes place. 

Only a few important houses have porches - 
remaining ones are on plots 19, 43, 63, 69 and 122. 
Where space was available porches are square in plan 




Main door, plot 69 

with side openings and seats, as for example on plot 43. 
The porch on plot 69 is restricted in depth by the width 
of the sikkah. Porches usually had a decorative screen 
above, for example plot 69. On a number of houses 
cantilevered wooden balconies project over the sikkah. 
These are constructed of square timber, with latticed or 
decorative balustrades and fretwork fascias to the floor 
and roof. 

The main door is usually a double door, sometimes 
with a small door within one of the leaves for everyday 
use. Three examples remain on plots 69, 107 and 1 13 A, 
though the original front door on plot 121, which has 
been removed, is still stored in the courtyard. These 
large double doors were opened for celebrations and 
expected guests. Shops and stores usually have folding 
doors with two or four leaves. Other front doors are simple 
two-leaf doors which may also be carved and studded. 
The design of the door to the family entrance is generally 
less elaborate although vertical studded boards, decorative 
carved panels and plain square panels are sometimes 
incorporated in the design, as illustrated above. More 
recently, decorative metal doors have been used. On the 
exterior of these doors there is a variety of metalwork, 
bolts, studs, door knockers (for example plot 69) and 
chains (for example plot 43); internal door hinges and 
bolts are by contrast often wood. 

On the ground floor, windows were only provided 
to the majlis or guest room. These are two-panel vertical 

windows, with metal bars and internal wooden shutters. 
Smaller versions of this design were used for windows 
to shops and other miscellaneous external windows. 
Windows also appear at first-floor level on two-storey 
houses (for example plot 43). Glass was not used, though 
the internal fanlights on plots 84 and 111 are glazed. 
Ventilation openings were used instead to give occupants 
the benefit of cross-ventilation whilst maintaining 
privacy. They consist of small openings, high up in the 
walls and are of two types: circular, and square or 
rectangular, with metal bars in larger houses. 

Windscoops are incorporated into the panel 
structure, at either ground- or first-floor parapet level. 
The wall windscoops comprise thin screens, usually of 
salafa sea-stone slabs, which create an interior cavity 
in the exterior walls. The inner screen is supported on 
shandal or palm lintels. The column and slightly recessed 
panel structure of the walls provide a decorative feature 
on parapets in particular. Decorative plaster screens 
and panels occur at first-floor level, and occasionally in 
relief. The corners of buildings on sikkah corners are 
sometimes chamfered (plots 19, 71, 100, 121) with a 
semi-circular or diagonal recess to prevent damage from 
traffic. Further ornamental features may consist of two- 
colour plasterwork such as that on the door surround 
of plot 84, and coloured paint as on the windtower 
cornice of plot 69. 

Drainage features include water chutes which are 
used to drain the gently sloping roofs. Traditionally 
made of wood, they form a major feature of visual interest 
along the street fagades. Foul drainage consists of two 
types: vertical coral ducts from first-floor facilities; and 
plaster domes covering ground-floor outlets. 

Courtyard architectural features 

The architectural features visible from within the 
courtyard are shown opposite. The main feature of 
the courtyard, which is usually paved, is the central tree, 
often Indian almond, occasionally a date palm. Plants in 
pots were also used to add greenery. Other visible features 
are: the surrounding verandas with their decorative 
columns and arches; wooden balconies; and detailing 
such as claustra, doors and windows. 



~] Courtyard | Veranda 

High-quality facade 


Architectural features in the courtyard 

The veranda is the most important feature of the 
'traditional' courtyard house, providing shade and an 
exterior sitting area, usually at the front of the main 
family room. It consists of a roofed area supported by 
columns, at least two bays wide, and sometimes as many 
as six bays wide. The columns sometimes have capitals 
from which false arches spring, or else they form a 
rectangular frame with decorative in-fill panelling in the 
corners to create an arched effect. Arches are always 
false, since they are decorative in-filling under lintelled 
openings rather than structural fabric. Plain semi- 
circular arches are not used between columns, but appear 
frequendy in claustra on verandas and loggias (for example 
plots 69 and 87). False arches used on verandas can be 
divided into four main types: the multifoil semi-circular 
arch which was mainly used on the older verandas (for 
example plots 43 and 87); the trefoil arch (for example 
plot 69); brackets, the most commonly used form of 
veranda arch which fills the corners but leaves a length of 
horizontal lintel between (these were still being built in 
the 1950s, for example plots 18 and 121); and complete 
brackets, where the two brackets join in the centre, which 
were used only occasionally (for example the loggia on 
plot 43). 

Top and above 

Courtyard feature 



The doors to family rooms opening off the court- 
yard and interconnecting rooms are made to a variety of 
designs including decorative carved panels and plain 
square panels. Windows to the courtyard are two-panel 
vertical windows, with metal bars similar to the external 
majlis windows. Decorative plaster screens and panels 
are a major feature of the courtyards and frequently 
occur above all the door and window openings, allowing 
cross-ventilation between rooms. Balustrades around the 
first floor of the courtyard are frequently very elaborate, 
consisting of pierced plaster screens (mostly in poor 
repair), for example plots 43 and 69. A variety of motifs 
are used: 'birds are a common feature, but the most 
dominant design is the geometric representation of 
flowers and foliage arranged in a vase. The moulded 
side of the screen has the most elaborate detail, and the 
plainer side always faces into the house-space.' 24 

Horizontal shandal rails around the first floor of the 
courtyard seem to have been the norm in earlier buildings. 
Internal balconies are unusual; however, cantilevered 
shandal balconies exist in plots 71, 84 and 107. The arched 
fronts of the first-floor loggias are an important courtyard 
feature of larger houses (plots 43 and 121). Stairs are fairly 
functional, usually in a U shape, with relatively little 
decoration. Other areas of architectural decoration are: 
two-colour plasterwork on the 'lotus' capitals of columns 
in a number of houses, including plots 2 5 and 121; painted 
columns; veranda cornicing at plot 69; and decorative red 
paint on shandal ceiling joists. 

Interior architectural features 

The main internal features naturally repeat the 
openings from the outside - doors, windows and 
claustra. Ornament is mainly reserved for the majlis and 
main family rooms. The base of the windtower, which is 
approximately 2 metres above the floor, is sometimes 
decorated. Bathrooms are sited at the end of a larger 
room and are usually screened by a wall finishing just 
below the ceiling, with a pierced screen on the top of the 
wall which aids ventilation whilst maintaining privacy. 
There is a good example of such a screen in plot 19, the 
house that is now the Majlis Gallery. 

Niches provide the main additional feature of 
architectural interest. These are formed within the wall 
thickness and are both decorative and functional. They 
provide storage space and decorate otherwise blank walls 
as well as economizing on building materials. The niches 
usually contain three levels divided by bands forming the 
shelves, the bottom two levels being used for objects 
which are used daily and the uppermost niche for storing 
objects used less frequently. Clothes pegs made of carved 
wood project from the wall and are often located between 
the iwan doors. 

The ceiling joists are exposed, with round shandal 
poles supporting a layer of palm or mangrove matting upon 
which mortar is laid for the floor above. Square timber 
supporting boards are sometimes used instead and in the 
better-quality older buildings shandal poles are used to 
direcdy support the boards. In more important rooms there 
are cornices at the top of walls, often of the 'gorge' type. 

Overview of buildings in Al Bastakiyyah 

The top illustration on the next page shows the three 
distinct categories of building in al Bastakiyyah. 
The constant alteration and extension of houses means 
each building has its own distinctive layout and form and 
no two buildings are the same. The majority of buildings 
are houses with courtyards (39 in total, 69 per cent of the 

site), though these vary greatly in size and layout from 
large symmetrical houses such as plots 69, 121 and 122 
to small odd-shaped houses such as plots 74 and 87. 
There are six modern two-storey buildings (11 per cent 
of the site) with externally facing windows, mostly with 
no courtyard. Some plots (1 1 in total, 20 per cent of the 



site) have never been fully developed and remain as 
compounds surrounded mostly by walls in sand and 
lime block. However, most of these compounds are 
now occupied by single-storey temporary buildings of 
plywood and metal sheeting and house many people. 

The bottom illustration shows building heights in 
the area. The majority of buildings are only single-storey, 
though older traditional courtyard houses generally have 
more first-floor rooms as they developed before further 
building work was stopped. Modern houses on plots 1 5B, 
15C, 32 and 86 are all two-storey Plot 14 has a modern 
two-storey extension to an older courtyard house with 
the remains of a windtower. 

The illustration at the top of the next page shows a 
summary of the existing plot ratio for each plot. 25 The 
average plot ratio for 'traditional' houses with courtyards 
is 1:0.86. Larger courtyard houses have an average 
plot ratio of 1:1 reflecting the greater opportunities 
for first-floor extensions. Average plot coverage for the 
larger courtyard houses at ground and first floor is 79 per 
cent and 2 1 per cent respectively. The 'modern' houses, 
mostly without courtyards, have an average plot ratio of 
1:1.6, nearly twice that of courtyard houses. The use of 
external windows and air-conditioning has replaced the 
use of the courtyard house plan. 

Development in al Bastakiyyah is broadly consigned 
to a forty-year period between 1920 and the 1960s. 
The general form of the buildings remained constant 
throughout this period, though new building materials 
were adopted when they became available and afford- 
able. It was not until the widespread use of domestic 
air-conditioning that the traditional courtyard form was 
abandoned and modern-style houses were built without 
courtyards and with externally facing windows. It is 
therefore possible to determine the likely approximate 
age of each building from the building form. 

The age of buildings, though important in piecing 
together the history of the area, is not as important a 
factor as the architectural merit of individual buildings, 
because some of the relatively new buildings have great 
architectural merit. It would be wrong to simply use age 
as a major determinant in assessing the value of individual 
buildings. Building age has therefore been divided into 

pre- 1950 buildings (mostly built from coral and sand 
lime blocks) and post-1950 buildings. Compounds with 

J Traditional housi 
with courtyard 

| Mode 

J Compound with 
temporary structures 

Types of existing buildings 

Heights of existing buildings 



temporary structures are identified separately. The 
illustration below shows the age of the original building 
on each plot but many buildings have been added to 
and altered almost continually over the years. There are 
thirty buildings (53 per cent of the site) built before 1950 
and 15 later buildings (27 per cent). Compounds with 
temporary structures occupy 1 1 plots. 

The use of traditional materials such as coral or shell- 
stone does not necessarily imply greater architectural 
value. Some of the more modern buildings built of 
reinforced concrete have greater architectural merit 
than some of the older coral buildings, for example plot 
15A which is a fine building with two windtowers. The 
illustration below right shows the predominant original 
building material for each plot. Out of the 56 plots and 
subdivisions only 13 buildings (23 per cent of the total 
number of buildings in al Bastakiyyah) are constructed 
entirely or mostly out of coral or shell-stone, whilst twice 
as many houses, 26 (46 per cent), are constructed out of 
sand-lime block. The sand-lime block houses usually have 
shell-stone foundations. Compound walls are mainly 
built of sand-lime blocks and surround 1 1 plots (20 per 
cent), and there are six modern buildings (1 1 per cent) 
which are made of concrete and reinforced concrete. 

(j 15m 

| Pre- 1 950 

Compounds with temporary structures 

7 ID 


Less than 1:0.5 
1:1 to 1:1.5 

1:0.5 to 1:1 
More than 1:1.5 

Existing plot ratios 

J Concrete 

J Sand-lime blocks 
I Temporary structure 

Building materials used in existing buildings 

Ages of buildings 



The conservation of Al Bastakiyyah 

Although other windtower houses remain in Dubai, 
numbers are small, with only a few in Bur Dubai 
and Deira in scattered locations. The old sttq area 
in Sharjah also has a few examples and there are small 
groups such as those at Jazlrt al Hamra in Ra's al 
Khaymah. Al Bastakiyyah, with its 25 windtowers, 
constitutes by far the largest concentration of this type of 
architecture anywhere on this side of the Gulf. As such 
it represents one of the most important architectural, 
historical and cultural assets not only for Dubai but also 
for the rest of the United Arab Emirates and the other 
Gulf states. 

The buildings themselves, however, are not the only 
vital feature of al Bastakiyyah - indeed many of them are 
simple domestic structures of only moderate intrinsic 
interest. It is the fact that no other comparable grouping 
survives, and the townscape of narrow lanes between 
the severe coral and sand block walls, widening out 
occasionally to show impressive two-storey fagades and 
windtowers and at times the modern city beyond, that 
make the area a vital link with Dubai's past. There is 
nowhere else that shows the city as it used to be; and it is 
a location full of historical significance, close to the 
Diwan, the creek and the sttq. 

Q Permanent public access along Diwan waterfront 
promenade links al Bastakiyyah to the old suq 

Q Creekside development site 

Q Re-aligned Diwan access road allows rebuilding of 
porch to plot I 2 1 

Q Arabic cafe/restaurant in plot 121 

Q Restored house for rent in plot 7 1 

Q The Windtower Museum in plot 1 22 

Q Barasti screened and landscaped car parking 

Q Small square outside the club 

Q Windtower Square 

(J) New tourism office and toilets 

<D Cultural Centre in plot 69 

(£ Plot 43 restored as 'Way of Life' Museum 

(J) New landscaped pedestrian link to Al FahrdT Fort 

(J) Refaced Diwan wall 

(J) Restoration Unit Project Office in prominent 
windtower building on Al FahTdT Fort 

(J) Improved car park next to sub-station 

(ft New soft landscaped edges to east and south 

(J) Tree planting to improve Al FahrdT Fort 

(0) Advertisements removed from the rooftop of the 
Dana Hotel and other high buildings 

Illustrated master plan 



The Windtower Museum, plot 122 

Ground-floor plan 

Mezzanine-floor plan 


First-floor plan 

Section looking south-east 

! Il-h-ii ii ii ii !' Ii !' ij ii 

L_J 1_!<JLji~ji— 1L-J L._il_JL;l__!l 


South-east elevation 

South-east elevation 





North-east elevation of plot 122 


North-west elevation 

An Arabic cafe (restaurant), plot 1 2 1 

Ground-floor plan 

Mezzanine-floor plan 

First-floor plan 

Section looking east 




North elevation 


South elevation 

- Yf-H^ WH'^'r 

□ □□ C 

rmn fi 

□ B 


□ n — "-i 



1 1 


■ f,~' * -1 * 



West elevation 

East elevation 

Shop and gallery, plot 87 


Ground-floor plan 

First-floor plan 



Section of plot 87 looking west 






e • o 

a b a 










South elevation and south-west elevation 

liqqg n^ssn 

QO □ 

C." *> klf>|f f> . ^ ' 



North elevation and south-east elevation 



Cultural Centre, plot 69 

Far left 

Ground-floor plan 


First-floor plan 

Al Bastakiyyah is at a crossroads; change is imminent. 
The long-standing threat of demolition has been lifted 
but it cannot continue as it is - the area is by and large a 
decaying slum. Many of the buildings are in bad 
structural condition; 26 they are being damaged by 
unauthorized changes such as shandagah structures; and 
the sheer pressure of over-occupation 27 is putting an 
intolerable strain on the buildings and the infrastructure. 

Acting as consultant for the Dubai Municipality 
in its current restoration project of al Bastakiyyah, the 
present writer has identified a strategy for the area's 
renewal with two basic elements. Firstly, the buildings 
and their surroundings should be carefully and subtly 
restored and adapted for modern-day use without 
radically changing the layout or appearance, with the 
overall aim of making al Bastakiyyah cleaner, safer and 
better cared for than it is at present. Secondly, there 
should be a balanced mix of activity in the area which 
should exploit the tourist and cultural potential of 
the area, reflect the current interest in occupying it 
residentially, and provide some commercial use to give 
the area continued life and variety. 

In order to achieve this, the following proposals 
have been made: to create a main 'activity node' to the 
north, grouping a cluster of visitor attractions, museums, 
cafes, shops and galleries around the main open space 
looking out towards the creek; to add a secondary node 
of places of interest to visitors including the existing and 
successful Majlis Gallery to the south on the al Fahldl 
roads; to identify a visitor route throughout the area 
incorporating the sikkahs and little squares linking 
the two nodes in an interesting and attractive way; to 

encourage predominantly residential use of the other 
restored houses; and finally to improve the setting on 
the outer edges of the area. Pedestrian links out of al 
Bastakiyyah will be: northwards to the creek and a revived 
Abra stop; north-west along the historic quayside in 
front of the Diwan; and west towards the al Fahidl Fort 
(Dubai Museum) and the suq (along the al Fahldl road at 
present); and eventually to the Diwan parking area. 

As part of this master plan, ten key projects in four 
areas have been identified: tourism and cultural projects 
- a windtower museum on plot 122, a restored house 
museum on plot 43, a tourist office on plot 13; other 
attractions - an Arabic cafe or restaurant on plot 12 1, a 
shop/gallery/cafe on plot 87 and a cultural centre on plot 
69; restoration projects - the restoration unit's head- 
quarters on plot 63 , a show home on plot 7 1 ; and projects 
in the public realm - beautification landscaping, and the 
upgrading of services, utilities, parking and access. 

In addition to the master plan, a number of areas needing 
immediate action by the Dubai Municipality have been 
identified: acquisition of six key buildings needed for 
high-priority works; closure of eight residential buildings; 
removal of temporary residential structures and any 
that are causing damage to buildings; reduction of over- 
crowding; the setting up of new organizations, including 
a special al Bastakiyyah project team; new planning 
controls and design guidelines; parking regulations; 
general tidying up of the district; a public awareness 
campaign; and the undertaking of special studies of the 
creekside site, museum projects and the implementation 
of the overall plan. 



Phase I key projects 

Phase II key projects preparation 
J Public realm landscape works 
I Complete facade upgradin 

j Superficial facade upgrading 

J Car parking and access 

I Diwan access road realignment 

Phase 1 projects 

Once these have been addressed, a phased pro- 
gramme will then be embarked on, principally in 
developing the key projects. The first phase, the main 
elements of which are shown in the illustration above, 
has three main purposes: to create an attractive tourist 
route through the area with at least one visitor attraction at 
the northern (creek) end; to make it apparent to property 
owners and potential investors that al Bastakiyyah's 
decline has ended and its revival has begun; and to 
demonstrate the high standards in design and workman- 
ship in all work carried out. In the second phase, which 
began in 1986 and is shown in the illustration opposite 
and on the right, the aims are to complete the landscaping 
and fagade restoration on all the sikkahs; to add further 
visitor attractions, mainly in the northern part; and to 
restore other worthwhile buildings not included in the 
first phase. 

Property owners and potential investors, as well as 
the Dubai Municipality, have an important role in this 
strategy. The reasons are twofold: firstly that conservation 
and revival of the area will be more soundly based and 

Phase II Key Projects 

Phase I Key Projects complete or underway 

Public realm landscape works 

Complete facade upgrading 

Superficial fagade upgrading 

Al Seef Road resurfacing/landscape 

Phase 2 projects 

longer lasting if it is motivated by individuals and 
businesses rather than simply public officials and 
consultants; and secondly that the private sector is 
already interested in investing in the area. The role of the 
Municipality should be in initiating the process, carrying 
out key projects as part of the immediate action plan and 
ensuring high standards in the work carried out by both 
public and private sectors. At present, Dubai Municipality 
has upgraded all the services, utilities, parking access 
routes to al Bastakiyyah, and all the sikkahs have been 
resurfaced with stone. The windtower on plot 69 has 
been rebuilt and restoration of plots 63 and 121 has 

As work continues, there will be tangible returns: a better 
tourist centre leading to increased visitor spending; a 
livelier and more attractive city centre; and historic 
buildings will have been given new uses and made viable 
in the long term. Less tangibly, the city and people 
of Dubai will be able to take pride in their uniquely 
fascinating and cosmopolitan heritage. 



Didier Willems 


Religious architecture has been sadly neglected by 
the literature concerned with the countries of the 
Arabian peninsula, and particularly the southern coastal 
regions of the Gulf. 1 Faced with the increase in modern 
developments, the authorities in the region are becoming 
aware of the value of their heritage. 

Architecture, a barometer of the evolution of a 
society, has always had the ability to be a public repre- 
sentation of ostentatiousness or simplicity, providing a 
reflection of political or religious ideology, philosophy, 
or the way of life or ambitions of a particular social class 
or community. Mosques are no exception to this rule. A 
comparison of the numerous different types of mosque, 
be they Ottoman, Iranian, Mozabite or Yemeni, would 
be enough to make this apparent. 

In the geographical area that constitutes the United 
Arab Emirates, one's eye rapidly turns towards recently 
constructed developments, the majority of which 
demonstrate interesting artistic expression and technical 
expertise. To refer only to these examples, however, 
would be to exclude a collection of ancient buildings that 
form an equally valid part of the national heritage. As a 
result of the changes and metamorphoses that have taken 
place on the southern and western coasts of the Gulf over 

several decades, this legacy has been increasingly 
neglected to the point of being largely abandoned. 2 It is 
clear that the resuscitation of these monuments would 
create an added tourist attraction but, most importantly, 
they are a national treasure that must not be forgotten. 
Thanks to a few who have acted in giving assistance to 
research and/or restoration work, these edifices are 
'reviving' and revealing aspects of themselves that have 
not hitherto been seen. 

The reasons and aims for undertaking a detailed 
study of the mosques of Ra's al Khaymah were the rapid 
deterioration of ageing mosques; lapsed maintenance, 
desuetude and climatic conditions are accelerating the 
process. The architectural profusion of the Ra's al 
Khaymah Emirate provides numerous examples to back 
up this statement. Among them is a small mosque (no. 6) 
situated to the east of the main trunk road between Rams 
and Dayah, where more than half of the qiblah wall 
has collapsed in under a year (illustrated on p. 206); any 
useful clues for the interpretation of the structure's 
evolution have thus been dragged into oblivion. Buildings, 
even those of religious significance, can also disappear 
due to the direct interference of the inhabitants, for 
example because of the reuse of building materials. One 



such case can be observed in the Raybiyyah wadi, east 
of Falayyah, where the stones were reused in the con- 
struction of a sheep pen. 

In order to tackle this situation, surveys were carried 
out in the northern territories of Ra's al Khaymah with 
the permission of the Department of Antiquities and 
Museums. The goal was to establish the feasibility of a 
comparative study of the Emirate's antique mosques.' 
Without attempting to draw up an exhaustive list of all 
the mosques (which would have been an impossible task 
in the time allotted), more than thirty buildings were 
nevertheless registered using predetermined selection 
criteria. They had to be old and endowed with certain 
characteristics relating to their structure, their layout, 
the materials and building techniques used, as well as 

any possible ornamentation. 4 The majority of these 
monuments date from the nineteenth and early twentieth 
centuries, while some could have been erected two or 
three centuries ago, and the first phases of that at Julfar 
date from much earlier. 

Some more recently built mosques were also 
recorded, because they occupied an antique site or 
because they bore witness to the endurance or adaptation 
of a particular characteristic. 5 Constantly changing 
influences, such as population shifts, have been an 
obstacle to the finding and recording of concrete facts. 
Indeed, the people living close to old mosques are 
generally ignorant of construction, since they are not 
usually native to those parts. This is not always the case, 
however, with sites in the mountains. 

General and individual characteristics, related to 
the architectural style and form, as well as their possible 
origins will become clearer; some of these may be related 
to historico-religious events (the adoption of a particular 
religious order or tribal conflicts) and some to important 
socio-economic ones (population shifts or commercial 


Ar-Rams/Dayah, mosque no. 6: qiblah wall in 1995 


Qiblah wall in 1996 



Historical and 
geographical context 

Being on the western coast of the Omani Peninsula 
and close to the Hormuz Strait, Ra's al Khaymah 6 
soon became a centre of activity, and a region coveted by 
the presiding administrations of its neighbouring coun- 
tries that witnessed the Persian, Omani and Portuguese 

Islamized since the first century of the Hijirian era, 
the future Emirate underwent several historico-religious 
perturbations. Among these were the Qawasim takeover 7 
and the expansion of Wahhabism during the eighteenth 
century (twelfth century AH). According to W. Dostal, 8 
the establishment of Wahhabism would become the 
reason for the removal of many religious buildings. 
Equally, the constant influence of the Sultanate of 
Oman, which belonged to the Ibadite denomination, and 

trading relations with Iran, predominantly Shi'ite, could 
not help but make an impact on the society. 

Migrations, often connected with the afore- 
mentioned phenomena, were also a considerable factor, 
whatever their scale. It was in this way that members 
of the Za'ab tribe, originally from Oman and having 
mainly dwelt in Jazlrt al Hamra,'' would have settled in 
Khatt 10 ; the Qawasim" influx provides another example. 
It is regrettable that there remains hardly any trace of 
their impact. 

Finally, the tribes occupying the mountain ranges, 
which constitute the Omani headland, belonged mainly 
to the Shihuh tribes. All these societies traded with each 
other between the two coasts of the peninsula. 

Materials and methods: 
two fundamental parameters 

Apart from temporary areas of worship, the place of 
i prayer is realized either as a sacred space reaching 
up to the open sky (musalld), or as a covered room (masjid 
or j 'ami'). The difference between the masjid and the 
jami\ not always clear in translation, has to do with 
the function of the particular mosque. Masjid normally 
designates a mosque for use of the faithful in carrying out 
their daily obligations. The jami 1, is distinguished from 
the masjid by its essential role in Friday afternoon general 
assemblies for the congregational prayers, which require 
the presence of a pulpit (minbar) for the preaching of the 
sermon (khutbah). 12 Conveniences are usually provided 
close to the mosque. The size of these buildings can vary, 

depending on the size of the community that uses them. 
Nevertheless, the jami' is often more spacious since it 
attracts a greater number of worshippers. The people 
who took refuge in the mountains or lived there in 
the dry season would often come down to the lowlands. 
In most cases, Friday was an opportunity to carry out 
business affairs and also, more importantly, to attend this 
weekly congregation. 

What is most impressive about these mosques, 
erected over the centuries, is not so much their simplicity, 
nor any sumptuous decoration, but more the judicious use 
of the materials available in the immediate surroundings. 
This traditional craftsmanship has, however, always 



allowed for innovations derived from the builders' back- 
grounds, new technical know-how, outside influences 
and 'ideology'. This indigenous religious architecture 
could be summed up using certain keywords: simplicity, 
diversity and practicality. 

During the conducted research, certain examples 
revealed specific describable characteristics, which were 
related to specific factors. It became clear that geo- 
graphical context was one of the most important. Indeed, 
this determined which materials were used. There 
are some differences that occur because of the age or 
location of the buildings, but categories were drawn up 
based on very particular variations. Each criterion used 
could give rise to a group whose members only differed 
from each other in very minor ways; a detailed study 
should start to draw these distinctions. 

In concrete terms, the Emirate of Ra's al Khaymah 
can be divided, from east to west, into three separate 
areas of altitude: the mountainous region, the plains and 
the coastal strip. Each of these provides a type of mosque 
{masjid or jami*) showing particular characteristics. 

It is easy for the observant viewer to draw distinc- 
tions between these constructions using only certain 
points of comparison, such as layout, size, position in 
relation to surroundings, or whether the materials used 
are traditional or modern. This can however be pushed 
further, without delving too far into minutiae. 

The materials and the consequent simplicity of 
their use are two of the principal features of native 
ancient religious architecture. In the framework of 
this research it is understood that we are not talking 
of modern innovations and expertise, such as the intro- 
duction and integration of materials like steel and 
reinforced concrete. 

The nature of the ground had a comparatively 
immediate effect on design as it forms the base of the 
building. Thus the difference between the styles in the 
mountains and on the coast had as much to do with the 
materials available to the builders and aesthetic concerns, 
as it had to do with the function, size and layout of the 
building; there was little opportunity for variation. 

The architecture of the plains and coastal area 
is more refined as it was installed in busy public and 

residential areas where people from all backgrounds 
rubbed shoulders, whether they were settled, nomadic, 
or just passing through. Some mosques were small 
complexes comprising a prayer room, a portico, a 
worshipping space with an open roof, washing facilities 
and, in exceptional cases, a minaret. 'Microcosms' 
formed by families created small clusters within the 
cities; these, in effect, were nothing less than small 
villages. Just as one place of worship sufficed in each 
mountain village, so the masjids and jami's were abundant 
in the plains. 


Wadi Ghalilah, mosque no. 31: general plan. An esplanade (A) leads to the 
praying room (B) 



Al-Hail, mosque no. 11: general 
plan. This masjid includes a 
courtyard (A), open-air praying 
area (B), the mosque (C) and a 
well (D). Generally, the masjids 
have only simple rooms 

5 □ □ 


□ □ 

□ □ □ □ 

□ □ □ n 







Ash-Shimal/Ghubb, mosque no. 34: general plan. A vast esplanade (A) gives access to the open-air praying area (B), the 
main mosque (C) and the use of the well for the convenience of ablutions (D). Sometimes, masjids and jami' are fronted by 
a portico; in this case, this space has probably been Included In the covered praying room 




The geographical context determined the type of 
materials utilized in the construction of a monu- 
ment, or even of a village in its entirety. The mountains 
provided rock and thorn trees (probably the Hlb or sidr, 
zizyphus spina christi); in the plains it was more rounded 
stones from the river beds, and/or brick as well as thorn 
trees and palms; along the coast, coral was put to use. 

Their morphological features defined the way in 
which they were put together. Thus, very angular stones 
could be used without any mortar and permitted the 
construction of 'dry stone' walls, only requiring clay to 
plug the gaps. On the other hand, more rounded stone 
had to be sealed with mortar. As for brick, that needed a 
binding agent such as wheat chaff mixed with the clay. 

In contemporary structures, tabuq (brick made with 
sand mixed with seashells), breeze-blocks and, more 
recently, reinforced concrete have made an appearance. 
These materials have the advantage of being able to be 
measured and shaped, assuring a great deal of flexibility, 
at the same time as needing less maintenance. It is not 
uncommon to find mosques containing samples of all 
these materials, bearing witness to various modifications 
and restorations. The facility of these materials to come 
in any shape or size is probably at the root of their 
ubiquity. They do, nevertheless, pose certain problems 
that should not go without mention. The incompatibility 
of materials or the poor quality of their ingredients can 
cause, over the long or short term, a deterioration in the 
structure in which they are used. The small mosque in al 
Falayyah is a case in point: restored in the 1980s, using 
traditional materials in combination with modern ones, 
such as cement, it has suffered from several leaks which 
have given rise to rot. The fact that it is no longer 
used for its original purpose is to blame for this state of 
disrepair. The very composition of reinforced concrete 
causes decay; saltpetre quickly collects at the base of walls 
and the water contained therein sets off an irreversible 
rusting of any metal framework. The result is a structure 
that starts cracking all over. One of the mosques in Jazirt 
al Hamra provides a perfect example. 

In some buildings, such as the great mosques 
of Shimal/Ghubb and in Ma'yarld (no. 22), the 


heterogeneous stonework provides its own account of 
the phases of construction. In actual fact, the use of each 
material corresponds to particular extensions or repairs 
carried out during the particular lifetimes of these 
edifices. The identification of materials and techniques 
used in a building is, in itself, a way of discovering its 
individual story. 

Wood, untreated or otherwise, is still a favoured 
element in supporting structures, whether it be in lintels 
(although stone ones are not uncommon), roofing or 
window frames. 

Opposite top 

Falayyah, mosque no. 2: view of 
the mankrur (palm matting) 

Opposite middle 

Jazirt at Hamra, mosque no. 4: view 
of the eastern facade in 1996. The 
reinforced concrete has not been the 
best choice; it has split because of 


Khatt, mosque no. 9: three stones 
are used for the lintels of this little 
opening in the qiblah wall 

Top right 

In the south of Wadi Haqil, 
mosque no. 30: the technique of 
'pierres seches' is frequent in 


In the mountains, rock is the material of preference. 
Provided directly by the environment, it comes in 
various sizes; the bigger stones are used for the underlying 
foundations. The assembly involves no mortar; the ridges 
on the stones provide a system of self-support. 

the metal becoming oxidized 

mountainous regions. Their sharp 


Opposite bottom 

edges create a natural rubble 

Ash-Shimal/Ghubb , mosque no. 34: 


the oldest elements were 

Wadi Ghalilah, mosque no. 31: 

constructed with traditional raw 

branches cover the mihrab (praying 


materials and the renovations have 


been made with modern materials 

such as concrete bricks for the roof 




Wadi Ghalilah, mosque no. 31: 
view of the external face of the 
qiblah wall. The building 
techniques used for the roof of the 
mosque are similar to those used 
for the rest of the village. The roof 
is equipped with a stone cornice 


Mosque no. 26: the covering of the 
mihrab was made by lying 
flagstones on two corbelling faces 
with a smooth profile 

The mosque walls are windowless; the only opening 
is the entrance door. Any unwanted chinks are filled with 
a mixture of clay and soil. The floor, made from hard- 
packed earth, is often on a level lower than that which 
surrounds the building. 

The roof is made from thorn-tree trunks onto 
which branches are attached; these are then covered with 
a mixture of earth and small stones. This covering is also 
used for the mihrab; in some cases the roof is a corbelled 
construction of stone. Some mosques, following the 
example of civil architecture, are corniced with flat 

In the lowlands, an area that is more vulnerable but 
less hostile, stones from the wadi and bricks are utilized. 
Wadi stone has the appearance of rounded rubble, and 
needs a binding agent like clay, lime or cement. Combined 
with different woods and coatings, it lends itself to being 
used in partitions in larger spaces, fundamental to the 
Friday midday worship. Along the coast, construction 
techniques hardly differ from those practised in the 
nearby plains. The most common technique is that which 
is referred to as 'layer construction', to be seen throughout 
the Gulf region. The principle is one that involves 
building the walls of a structure by putting successive 
courses one on top of the other, in layers that are plainly 
visible. The stones are covered in lime, and then covered 
in a coating similar to mortar. This lime can be derived 
from blocks of coral that undergo a slow-burning process; 
this explains the common presence of wood charcoal in 
the mortar. Each course adds an average of another 25 to 
30 centimetres. 

In most of the buildings that were studied the walls 
are hardly, if at all, interbuilt. This immediately explains 
the separation at the corners and, hence, the accelerated 
erosion. The qiblah wall had to be erected first in order 
that the north- and south-facing walls could lean on it. 
The Great Mosque of Fahlayn is interesting since the 
construction methods used there are oddly similar to 
those adopted in the main mosque at Manah in the 
Sultanate of Oman." The production of Gothic arches 
on columns, lending an element of decoration to the 
building, is a major feature which leads one to consider 
the possible origins of this influence. 


Mud brick and sand brick have only been observed 
in rare cases: two excavated mosques, one at al 
Mataf/Julfar 14 (no. 1) and the other in the Shimal region 
(no. 35). 15 Their ruins date back several decades. As 
much as the fourth phase of the mosque at Julfar can be 
characterized by the radical switch to stone combined 
with mortar, 16 so the continued use of mud brick in the 
second mosque is undeniable. From the examples of 
the buildings that were catalogued, it seems unlikely 
that brick bases would have been used to support 
constructions of stone, despite the abundance of the 
material in the region. Where the mihrab has come away 
from the mosque, a split in the wall has appeared. This is 
also in mud brick, but of a dark brown colour. It would 
appear to be some kind of repair or reinforcement. 


Top left 

Ar-Rams/Dayah, mosque no. 6: southern corner. The masonry of stones held by 
mortar clearly shows the 'layer construction' technique 


Fahlayn, mosque no. 3: arches separating the second bay from the qiblah bay 


Ash-Shimal, mosque no. 35: all the walls were erected with mud bricks and clay 



Construction methods making use of brick and/or 
stones bound with mortar coexisted. The use of com- 
pound materials is not unusual, but might have been 
reserved for fortified buildings. 17 As D. Kennet writes, 'It 
is true that the earth and wood stockades described by de 
Albuquerque may only have been emergency defences 
erected to repel the Portuguese threat but it is also 
possible that mortar was not very commonly used as a 
building material in the Musandam area in the centuries 
before the arrival of the Portuguese." 8 That the use 
of mortar became more widespread with the arrival of 
the Portuguese should not be ruled out, but if it is a 
reason for the adoption of this technique, then it is not 
the only one. There is an equally valid physical reason. 
Stones with sharp edges are held together by natural 
forces; this is not the case with wadi stones. The type of 
material used justifies the application of one technique in 
preference to another. 

The walls accommodate niches and/or openings on 
the upper levels. The windows are four sided, wide and 
closed by means of wooden shafts which are positioned 
horizontally; in mosques which have undergone con- 
versions, these have wooden frames, are wire-meshed, 

and normally furnished with four small shutters. These 
shutters protect the sacred space from evil eyes and 
animals, but also from bad weather. It is interesting to 
note that the biggest windows are positioned on the 
south and west faces in cases where there is no natural 
barrier against the climatic influences of the Gulf and the 
mountainous regions, which are to be found to the north 
and to the east. At the base of the frames a small hole 
allows drainage of any water that might have leaked in or 
been spilt in cleaning. 


Khatt, mosque no. 9: thick 
branches or tree trunks are used as 
a grating to stop intruders 

Above right 

Al-Hail, mosque no. 11: the 
latticed windows are of the same 
size and have four shutters 


Falayyah, mosque no. 2: one little 
opening is made in each side of the 
mihrdb. This peculiarity occurs in 
many buildings 



The mihrab is placed in the centre of the qiblah wall 
against which it is built up or with which it is interlocked. 
It normally has a little opening on each of its sides. The 
covering of the niche was traditionally carried out in 
three different ways: with a semicircular or ribbed vault, 
with a single-sloped or double-sloped roof supported by 
flat stones or boards. This is manifested on the exterior 
as a half-dome or a stepped slope. 

For the most part the floors are hard-packed earth 
or gravelstones covered with a layer of lime or, following 
repair, cement. The spreading of concrete is also used to 
facilitate the support of blocks forming the foundation of 
a raised floor (Ra's al Khaymah, no. 13). 

Left top 

Al-Hall, mosque no. 10: view of the 
qiblah wall from the south-west. A 
half-dome covers the pointed-barrel 
vault of the mihrab 


Dayah, mosque no. 21: a half- 
dome covers the mihrab. In this 
example, the windows recall its 


Ghubb, mosque no. 14: the 
external profile of the mihrab was 
built with steps 


Ra's al Khaymah, mosque no. 13: 
the door between the old and the 
new mosque. The stairs and the 
floor of the second monument were 
made with concrete; they are 
probably stabilized on an 
embankment which could explain 
the differences between the levels 



Palm trees, thorn trees and mangroves are the most 
exploited species of wood. Sawn into half-trunks or 
planks, or left uncut, they are suitable for lintels or the 
mankrur. 19 Trunks used as beams are being progressively 
replaced by rough-cut cross pieces. 







1 1 

r. * . 



-0, -'.. "■"■< V* 

7 ^i"< • i 4 


Left top 

Dayah, mosque no. 21: tree trunks 
support mankrur (palm matting) 

Left middle 

Ma'yarld, mosque no. 22: squared 
wood and batten take the place of 
traditional beams and mankrur 

Left bottom 

Dayah, mosque no. 24: this mosque 
shows an example of a single slope 
which drains off rain water towards 
the eastern entrance facade 

Right top 

Khatt, mosque no. 9: view of the 
double-slope roof from the southern 

Right middle 

Ash-Shimal, mosque no. 7: 
terracotta gutters drain rain water 
towards the qiblah wall 

Right bottom 

Ghubb, mosque no. 8: the roof of 
this mosque has two slopes; 
wooden gutters drain off rain water 



Rain water is generally drained towards the qiblah 
wall. One of the shrines in Dayah (no. 20) and one 
in Jazlrt al Hamra (no. 4) are isolated cases where 
water runs towards the side where the main entrance is 
located. When the roof is double sloped, the water runs 
along the two sides; the jami' at Khatt follows exactly 
this model (no. 9). The drains are made in hard clay 
or wood in older cases, or in zinc in more modern 


As indicated at the beginning of this section, a 
mosque can have temporary status. One place of prayer 
was erected on land reserved for shepherds, between 
the main road going from al Nakhll to Ra's al Khaymah 
and the bay on the edge of the industrial zone on the 
north-east side of the capital. Following the simple 
design of beams supporting a mankrur-type roof, it was 
destroyed between May 1996 and April 1997. 

Finally, it seems appropriate to discuss some of 
the peculiarities that can be seen in certain mosques. A 
few hundred yards south of the Great Mosque of Ra's 
al Khaymah there are, in the middle of one of the old 
neighbourhoods, the vestiges of a small city mosque 
(no. 13), now going under the name of the Sayyid 
Mandany jami'. It is undeniably distinct from the 
extension which has been constructed against its eastern 
wall. It has been completely abandoned in favour of this 
larger building which has been built from concrete 
blocks; a passage has been left between the two. They are 


Ra's al Khaymah, mosque no. 24: 
the praying area was simply built 
with concrete for the floor and thin 
wooden beams to support the 


Ra's al Khaymah, mosque no. 23: 
the recently built mosque (in the 
background) adjoins the eastern 
wall of the old one. Its facade is 
higher and is ventilated by nine 
openings (bad gir) 





diametrically opposed to each other in terms of materials 
and building techniques, as well as cooling systems; the 
older one has a badgir 20 and the more recent construction 
is furnished with air-conditioning. The eastern wall, 
where the original entrance was, presents a mystery: the 
ground floor has two doorways, one of which has been 
blocked up, and the upper level has its own bad gir. It 
would appear that this upper level belonged to a building 
that stood in front of the original small mosque: either an 
enlargement or extension of this latter, or an adjoining 
building whose function is now totally unknown. 

The two specimens that were accepted onto the 
list in the ancient town of Jazlrt al Hamra demonstrate 
clearly the alterations that were carried out over the 
course of time; these consist of numerous additions to 
the original kernel of the building, the role of which has 
not been changed at all. In the mosque situated in the 
middle of the settlement (no. 4), the prayer room was 
built on top of initial foundations, which are visible from 
the south side. Following this, a reinforced concrete 
portico and an area for ablutions, made from breeze- 
blocks, were added. In the second building (no. 17), the 
oldest phase can be observed in the northern and southern 
walls, on the interior as well as on the outside. Likewise, 
some traces of pilasters and the edges of the original roof 
have not entirely disappeared. 


jazlrt al Hamra, mosque no. 17: the southern wall (in the background) shows an 
earlier part of the building which is visible past a pilaster and what is left of the 


jazlrt al Hamra, mosque no. 4: a portico and an area reserved for ablutions have 
been attached to the praying room. These additions were built with modern 
materials such as tabuq (bricks full of shell fragments) and concrete 


jazlrt al Hamra, mosque no. 4: old sections are visible within the south facade 



Generally speaking, there is no ostentatious decora- 
tion and it is not a major concern. This fact means 
that it has been of marginal interest, a field of little 
importance or one for a smaller or more intimate study. 
Among the mosques researched, only a few offer a small 
amount of ornamentation; this shows itself in a number 
of ways. 

The first genre of decoration is in slight architec- 
tural variation; this might consist of arches or columns, 
as in the Great Mosque of Fahlayn (no. 3), which is one 
example. Polygonal pillars with curved chamfers and 
intrados on the mihrab and minbar, such as those in the 
Great Mosque of Khatt (no. 9), also contribute to the 
charm of the prayer space. The arches covering the 
prayer alcoves and the minbar can be in vaulted, ogival, 
basket-handle or foiled styles. 


fahlayn, mosque no. 3: bays are separated by a line of pointed and multifoil 
arches which rest on circular columns 

Right top 

Khatt, mosque no. 9: the arches of the mihrab and minbar and the shape of the 
columns are elements which create a pleasant atmosphere in the jami' 

Right bottom 

Ma'yarid, mosque no. 22: making holes in the mihrab permits the sun to enter the 
space but produces chromatic effects also, not necessarily wanted at the outset 



These types of ornamentation are not the exclusive 
privilege of the jami' but are, at least in the examples stud- 
ied, ancient work. The more recent technique, involving 
the ornamentation of the sides of the mihrab or the qiblah 
wall with open-work, makes judicious use of light for 
practical purposes and creates a chromatic atmosphere. 

The second genre is that of added ornaments. The 
most representative of these are sculpted geometrical 
decorations on the doors (al Hall, no. 23, Jazlrt al Hamra, 
no. 17, or Dayah, no. 21). The designs vary, but are 
always based on the interweaving of rectangles, diamonds 
and sections of a circle. In one of the mosques in al Shimal, 
a border decorated with vegetable and geometrical 
motifs has been salvaged in order to preserve its related 
function as a lintel. 

The introduction of new materials, such as moulded 
and tinted glass, placed in the surroundings of doors 
(Dayah, no. 20), prefabricated partitions or embedded in 
cement for pictorial decoration, such as the configuration 
portraying what is likely to be Makkah in one of the 
masjids in Dayah (no. 20), is another creative resource. 
The standardization of such materials has given rise to an 
increase in their use. 

Finally, a small number of inscriptions have been 
noted; these, however, are more recent. They consist of 
quotations from the Qur'an, or simply of graffiti, and not 
of anything that is informative in terms of the building 
itself; mosques nos. 22 in Ma'yarld and no. 2 1 in Dayah 
are two such examples. 



Ash-Shimal, mosque no. 15: a 
wooden border decorated with 
floral and geometrical patterns has 
been retrieved to serve as a lintel 


Dayah, mosque no. 21: as with 
other monuments, the door is the 
principal expression of decoration 

Far right 

Dayah, mosque no. 20: the centre 
of the door transom was once filled 
with green moulded glass 




Ghubb, mosque no. 14: detail of the 
north facade. All the openings are 
obstructed with prefabricated claustra 

Top right 

Dayah, mosque no. 20: this dome 
and the two minarets could be a 
representation ofMacca, the Holy 
City towards which the mihrab 


Ma'yarid, mosque no. 22: the 
inscription is the shahada 
(profession of faith, one of the five 
pillars of Islam): 'la ilaha ilia 
Allah [wa] Muhammad rasuluhu' 
which means 'There is no other god 
than Allah and Muhammad is His 


Across the simple range of ancient mosques in the 
Emirate of Ra's al Khaymah there emerges an 
obvious symbiosis that exists between the construction of 
the edifices and their geographical context. The 
environment dictates the main building material. 
Simple, yet satisfactory, techniques have been put into 
practice according to the space available and the role 
that the mosque has been designed to fulfil. It is 
necessary at this point to note the opinion of W. Dostal 
who concludes that '... in accordance with Wahhabite 
tradition, the mosques are rectangular buildings 
constructed with intended simplicity'. 21 In the absence of 
tangible examples, this piece of wisdom might not seem 
to be out of place; but in fact, certain mosques displaying 
these typical characteristics (as in Julfar) would have been 
constructed before the Wahhabite influence. One could 
conclude that the nature of the religious sect is of 

secondary importance to the original mosque form or 
plan. The degree of simplicity is apparent on two levels: 
on a general level, and according to location. If one takes 
the former approach it becomes clear that the ancient 
mosques in Ra's al Khaymah are not quite so sumptuous. 
If, on the other hand, we take account of their different 
geographical locations, comparing those found in the 
mountains and those on the plains or in the coastal 
regions, the reasons for a simple style could be quite 
different. The tribes occupying the mountains were not 
constantly in contact with those working the land around 
the palm groves or making their living conducting 
business or trade in the few urban centres. Consequently 
economic, social and geographical factors would be 
equally important reasons for architectural sobriety. All 
these factors are interwoven in such a way as to make it 
impossible to discern the one that predominates. 





Hasan Muhammad Al Naboodah 

The city of al 'Ayn, an oasis located in the south-east 
of the United Arab Emirates near al Burayml, is 
well known for its historic forts. The surviving forts were 
built by members of the ruling Al Nahyan family in the 
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Other forts and 
towers were built by members of al Zawahir and al 
Na'lm tribes, of which none now remain. 

The forts were built for a number of purposes, the 
most important of which was to protect the tribes and 
their allies and territories. However, in times of peace, 
the forts were used for administrative purposes, as well 
as for housing the Ruler. Long before the discovery of 
oil in the region, these forts were the only buildings to 
be found near the coastal area and in inland oases. In al 
'Ayn, however, every important family had its own fort, 
where people used to gather every day to discuss their 
day-to-day socio-political life. 

It is believed that people of the region were familiar 
with fort construction long before the arrival of the 
Portuguese in Oman. Archaeological evidence from 
more than one site indicates that pre-Islamic inhabitants 
of the UAE used similar methods and materials in their 
buildings. Further, the forts of al 'Ayn are different from 
other Portuguese forts found in the Gulf, particularly in 

The UAE forts are smaller than their Omani 
counterparts, and are mainly built from local materials: 

stones, local gypsum (juss) and clay {tin). These materials 
can withstand greater temperatures and are more durable 
than cement and concrete. Al 'Ayn forts were built on 
sites where water supplies were plentiful, while towers 
were mainly constructed on hills, for defensive reasons. 
Inside the fort, one or more wells or afalaj (a system for 
channelling water) would be constructed. 

Most of al 'Ayn's forts were square in shape, with 
external walls approximately 4.6 metres high and one 
or more towers situated at the corner of each wall. A 
small mosque would sometimes be located near the 
tower. The fort would generally have two storeys, the 
lower generally larger than the upper. The ceilings 
would be constructed from mats made of date palm 
fronds and tree stumps. Date palms provided a cheap, 
readily available building material that was climatically 
effective in reducing the heat inside the fort. 

The main gate, located on the front wall, would be 
made from timber imported from India or East Africa. 
Generally the forts were constructed from inexpensive 
materials and were simply designed, with no arches, 
columns or embellishment. 

Al 'Ayn is the only region in the UAE where two 
types of forts can be found, those of the ruling family 
of Al Nahyan and those of local tribes. In order to 
distinguish between the two, local people used to call the 
Ruler's fort a palace (hum). 



Before the discovery of oil, these forts were the only 
stone buildings in the al 'Ayn area, while the houses of 
the local people were of the l arlsh mats woven of date leaf 
stalks. The Ruler's fort had to play a considerable role in 
the socio-political life of the region. Due to its stature 
and grandness it was considered the centre of the old 
town, while its courtyard was the main public square for 
holding the A'yad and wedding festivities, the beginning 
and ending of Ramadan, the start of the Hijrah year, the 
appointing of a new Ruler - all would be officially 
announced from the fort. The square grounds were also 
used for the suq location particularly during the hunting 
season; the fort would also be used as a prison for those 
breaking the customary law ('urf). Public executions of 
criminals would take place inside the fort. There were, 
however, very few executions since criminals would seek 
refuge with their own tribe. In such cases, the victim's 
tribe would pay diyyah or blood money through the 
Ruler to have the criminal spared. 

The al 'Ayn region belongs to the Ruler of Abu 
Dhabi who appoints a representative (mumaththil) who 
is not necessarily a member of the ruling family. The 
Ruler's Fort in al 'Ayn has therefore always been of less 
political importance than other coastal forts in the UAE. 
During the reign of Zayed Bin Khalifah (1856-1 909) and 
his successors, the Rulers of al 'Ayn were members of al 
Zahirl tribe, the largest tribe in the area. The most 
renowned Ruler from this tribe was Ahmad bin Hilal 
al Zahirl. 

The towers of al 'Ayn were generally situated close 
to the main fort, taking up the corners of the defensive 
walls to act as lookouts, and from which to oversee the 
water wells and date groves. These towers were manned 
by watchmen or the fort's guards. 

During his visit to Burayml in 1 840, Captain Atkins 
Hamerton mentioned some of the important forts of the 

the fort of al Burayml (believed to be al-Sidayri 
fort) is on the south side of the town in an open 
plain. It is nearly square, surrounded by a dry 
ditch about 24 feet wide, inside of which there is a 
wall about 8 feet high, 3 feet thick at the bottom 

and not thicker than a foot or fifteen inches 
on the top: it is constructed, as is the whole fort, 
of sun-dried brick, and intended to protect 
matchlock men defending the ditch - between 
this wall and the fort there is an open space of 
about 30 feet with mangers for feeding camels 
or horses. The fort wall is about 14 feet high, 
5 thick, with round towers at the angles, ill 
constructed, they do not flank the curtains . . . ' 

Until the discovery of oil, the political situation 
in the area of al Burayml and al 'Ayn was frequently 
unsettled. Inter-tribe raids and disturbances were very 
common and indeed the Burayml dispute, documented 
in letters by Ahmad bin Hilal al Zahirl, 2 has only recently 
been resolved. 1 Tribe loyalty was divided between Oman, 
Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. 

Al 'Ayn consists of a number of districts, the 
most important of which are al Hill, al Jahily, Haflt, 
al Muwayji'l, al Mas'udl, Jlml and al Kuwaytat. These 
districts were mainly inhabited by groups of the Banl Yas 
federation, the most important being al Zawahir, al 
Mazarl', al Sudan, al Mahayr, al 'Awamir, al Manaslr, Al 
bu Falah and Banu Ka'b, all of whom pledged allegiance 
to Al Nahyan. The Banu Yas federation took over the 
area of al 'Ayn, following the political vacuum created by 
the collapse of the Ya'aribah rule in the mid-eighteenth 
century. The federation's history goes back however to 
the early seventeenth century when the Banu Yas fought 
against Nasir bin Murshid, the founder of the Ya'aribah 
dynasty. 4 The expansion of the federation took place 
in the second half of the eighteenth century, under the 
leadership of Al Nahyan, a branch of the Al bu Falah 
tribe. With the reign of Zayid bin Khalifah, the territorial 
control of the Banu Yas federation in south-east Arabia 
was extended from Khawr al 'Adld in the Qatar Peninsula 
to al Burayml. P. L. Cox, who visited the area in 1902, 
stated that the Ruler of Abu Dhabi's practical influence 
extended beyond Burayml to 'Fori. 5 This would have 
included areas of those tribes loyal to Al Nahyan; 
however, independent tribes and those loyal to the 
Sultan of Oman lived in the Burayml area. The political 
and tribal structure in the region became much more 



complex after the interference of the Sa'udi's and the 
establishment of the new Imamate in central Oman, 
1915-56. 6 

Al Na'lm for its part constituted one of the largest 
and most influential tribes in the Musandam Peninsula 
before the discovery of oil. They inhabited a large area 
extending from Ra's al Khaymah to al Burayml, with 
some members of the tribe living near the towns of 'IbrI 
in the interior and al Rustaq of Oman. Their loyalty was 
therefore divided between the Qawasim, Al Nahyan and 
Oman. Those of al Burayml were semi-independent, and 
closer to the Omanis, and some of their forts still exist in 
the Omani part of the oasis. 

Very little is known about the early history of the al 
Zawahir tribe which constituted the largest tribe in the 
area in al 'Ayn, except that the tribe took its name from 

the region of al Zahrah in Oman. Despite the key role 
this tribe played in the Banu Yas federation, particularly 
in their allegiance to the Al Nahyan over the Burayml 
dispute, most of their forts have vanished or been 

The only forts remaining that can be studied 
are those of the Al Nahyan family: al Murayjib, al 
Murabba'ah, Sultan Bin Zayed, al Rumaylah, Jahily and 
al Muwayji'l. All these forts were restored in the 1 970s by 
the Department of Tourism and Archaeology in al 'Ayn. 
Traditional materials were used - mud bricks, palm 
fronds, logs and local gypsum - but by employing 
modern construction methods, and various additions and 
alterations to the original structure, the Department has 
changed the face of many of the old forts. 



The forts 

Qal'at Mazyad 

^k rectangular building with a massive sur and two 

^ gateways. The fort has three circular towers 

which occupy three of the corners, with the fourth 

corner occupied by a square tower. The fort is on two 

floors with a large square. 

Burj al Murabba'ah 

The building of this tower was ordered by Shaykh 
Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1948, when he 
was Ruler of the Eastern Region. Although called al 
Murabba'ah (square) it is rectangular in form (16.1 x 10 
metres), and it is built with a ground floor with two 
upper storeys. The tower has one main entrance, facing 
south, leading to the internal hall of the burj and the 
main staircase. There are four rooms on the ground 
floor, the largest being the west-facing room, and three 
smaller square ones, one adjacent to the staircase and two 
running across the eastern wall, used for storing arms 
and ammunition. On the first floor there are four rooms 
that were used for living and surveillance. All the rooms 
have openings in all directions. The third floor's three 
large rooms were set aside for living. The tower is 
traditionally constructed out of mud brick with ceilings 
made of palm frond mats. An enclosing wall, sur, 
surrounds the tower's large grounds (104 x 74 metres) 
with an entrance gateway to the west. 

Top right 

Murabba'ah Fort: main building, 

looking towards the south-facing 

facade containing the main 



Front elevation of the south-side 


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Murabba'ah Fort: ground floor, first floor, second floor and roof plans 


The street entrance 


Detail of the multlfoll arch at the street entrance, showing the traditional 
vestibule ceiling construction of date palm trunks and woven palm-frond 



Qal'at al Murayjib 

Named after the locality, it is considered to be 
one of the oldest Al Nahyan forts in al 'Ayn, 
constructed around 1816 during the reign of Shaykh 
Shakhbut bin Dhiyab. The fort is on two floors, with six 
rooms for daily use and living on the ground floor and 
three entrances to the south and south-east. The first 
floor has one room only situated in the western corner 
flanked by two terraces extending east and south. A third 
level accommodates a roof terrace above the second- 
floor western room. The fort has two towers that stand 
separate from the structure. An adjacent tower, 26 metres 
to the east, is circular with three floors and was used as a 
watch tower. The second tower, situated at a distance of 
130 metres to the west of the fort, is rectangular (8.4 x 7.4 
metres). Constructed on three floors it contains a number 
of rooms that were used by the guards and domestics. 


Al Murayjib Fort: rear north-west 
wall, surrounded by gardens 


The square tower 




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Al Murayjib Fort: front elevation 


First-floor plan 


Ground-floor plan 


The circular tower 



Qal'at al Muwayji'l 

Al Muwayji'l is one of the largest and lushest areas 
of al 'Ayn, famous for its palm orchards, fertile 
land and pure breeze. The favourable location was 
selected by Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan for constructing 
his residence and the fort in 1946, and it is where the 
Crown Prince Shaykh Khalifah Bin Zayed was born. 

The fort is a walled compound of approximately 
60 x 60 metres with two protruding blocks on the south- 
east and north-west corners. The north-east corner 
is contained within the fort sur. The surrounding sur 

rises to 5 metres in height with the main entrance gate 
in the southern fagade. 

The main building was used for living, and situated 
on the north-west corner of the compound. It had a 
total of eight rooms, some for storage, and an open roof 
terrace on the third floor. The block on the north-east 
was for the use of the domestic staff and has two floors. 
The third block, east of the entrance, was used by the 
guards and as an ammunition store. To the south of this 
block a mosque was constructed for the fort. 












□ i □ □ 



Qal'at al Muwayji'l: front (south) 


Rear (north) elevation 


General plan (ground floor) 


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Al Muwayji'I Fort: ground- and first-floor plans of Block No. 2 


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Ground-, first- and second-floor plans of Block No. 3 





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Ground- and first-floor plans of Block No. 1 



Husn al Shaykh Sultan 

Also known as the Eastern Husn, al Husn al Sharql, 
it is located in the centre of al 'Ayn and was built 
by Shaykh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan around 1910. 
The husn has three towers attached to the surrounding 
wall, on the east, west and south-east corners. The 
dimensions of this nearly square fort are 41 .45 metres on 
the main south fagade of the building and 40.7 metres on 
the north elevation. The western wall, up to the tower, 
runs to 3 1.8 metres. A series of three reception majlis- 
type rooms run parallel to the southern wall and open 
on to the main entrance gate. Another set runs along 
the eastern wall of the fort, and were probably allocated 
for private use. A large square takes up the complete 
enclosed space on the interior of the enclosing walls. 

Above the portal to the husn run two verses of 
poetry that celebrate the building and its modest glory: 

U WW W ▼ 

Laha najm alsa'dft bab al 'ula 
majduhu baqin raghma al mu 'anid 
Ashraq al tarlkhu bilyawm alsaHd 
shad bayt al mulk Sultan bin Zayid 

'The star of joy has emerged on the exalted gateway 

its glory will remain despite the resistance 

of the opposed 

History has brought the shining of a happy 

day with the house of rule/dominion constructed 

by Sultan bin Zayid' 

Since 1971 the renovated fort has been attached to 
al Ayn Museum. 


Sultan Bin Zayed Fort: the south-facing wall with the main entrance 


Main entrance 



Sultan Bin Zayed Fort: view of the rear north-facing elevation and towers, 
currently used as al 'Ayn Museum 


General ground-floor plan 



Qal'at al Jahily 

One of the largest forts in the country, Qal'at al 
Jahily was constructed by Shaykh Zayed Bin 
Khalifah in 1898. Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan 
was born there, and used this fort as the centre for 
administering the affairs of the eastern region while he 
ruled al 'Ayn. 

The fort takes a square form (35x37 metres) placed 
at the north-east corner of the walled enclosure, with 
three circular towers rising to 9 metres in height, two 
attached to the surrounding wall on the north-west and 
south-east, and one placed at the south-west corner inside 
the compound. The remaining corner on the north-east 
had the Shaykh 's majlis, from where he conducted official 
affairs. The fort's surrounding sur is 122 metres long at 
the north wall, and 88 metres long on the eastern wall 
built, with a stone foundation and mud-brick walls. 

The fort has two large gateways; the southern one 
(on the interior fort) has two verses of poetry inscribed 
on the entrance, associating the opening of the gate 
with good will and deeds, where happiness resides 

in exaltation and glory celebrates, documenting the 
construction of a house by Zayed Bin Khalifah: 

fataha bab al khayrfi bab al c ula 
hallafihi al sa 'd bil 'ulya' al munlfah 
tahanl al Hzz qalat arkhu 
darjadshadahu Zayid bin Khalifah 

The second gateway is located on the western side of 
the fort. It is inscribed 'In the name of Allah the Merciful 
the Compassionate, Allah is with those who are patient.' 
Flanked by two towers, this entrance is quite elaborate on 
the interior and attached to a series of rooms and arcades 
running to the north and south forming an open block 
that extends to the east, towards the hum and the fort. 

The interior fort has thirteen rooms, lining the 
four walls, with two arcades running on the eastern and 
northern side, preceding the rooms and opening onto 
the courtyard. Those on the interior south and west walls 
open directly onto the central courtyard space. 

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General plan (1990-95) 


The circular hum of the fort is located to its south- 
west. Concentric in plan, with a central tower, it contains 
a number of rooms on the first floor that were used by 
the soldiers and for keeping arms and ammunition. Like 
the rest of the forts, this impressive and extraordinary 
structure was constructed in sun-dried mud brick. 

Attached to the fort is a mosque located to the south- 
west of the hum structure. Like the hum, the structure of 
the mosque has been subject to modification during the 
course of renovation. 

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Above and right 

Al Jahily Fort: ground- and first-floor plans 


The series of rooms used by the Shaykhs constructed around the courtyard 




Al jahlly Fort: top-, second-, fust- and ground-floor plans 


Close-up of the tower. It was built by HH Shaykh Zayed Bin Sultan Bin 
Khalifah (Zayed I) in 1898. Madar sun-baked bricks were used for the 
construction of the thick defensive walls with palm fronds and woven mats used 
for the ceilings 


Detail of a multifoil arch at the entrance to the Fort 


South-facing entrance to the buildings within the Fort. The inscription above the 
portal wishes welfare and happiness on the Fort and on Zayed for establishing 
this glorious building 



Burj al Rum ay I ah 

Cine of the smaller towers, measuring 13.3 x 8.4 
metres, it is simple in its rectangular plan, set 
within an interesting nine-sided polygonal surrounding 
sur. The main entrance gateway through this sur is on 
the eastern side, corresponding to the main fagade 
and entrance of the tower. The exterior walls of the 

three-storey tower taper in the traditional form with 
narrow slit openings. Windows only occur on the first floor, 
one in each fagade except for two on the northern fagade. 
Each of the two floors is divided into two rooms by 
a central wall running north-south, with a roof terrace 
on the third floor. 

Above and right 

Front and rear elevations 



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Northern and southern elevations 


First- and ground-floor plans 








Abdul Sattar Al-Azzawi 

The linguistic and 
architectural meaning 

he Arabic word murabba l ah has several different 
meanings, denoting various architectural features. 
The Persian philologist and lexicographer Al Fairuz 
Abadl (d. 1415), in his dictionary^/ QamUs Al-Muhit, 
and Arab philologist Ibn Manzur (d. 1311), in his 
dictionary Lisan Al-Arab, attribute various meanings to 
the word murabba l ah. They both cite it as meaning 
a majlis, i.e. a space designated for sitting; a place to sit 
or a seat; a part of a town - a constructed district or 
a quarter; or a reception hall which is essentially square 
in shape. 

Lexicographer Louis Ma'alouf (d. 1946) in his 
dictionary Al-Munjid cites the verb form of the word: 
rabba'a, meaning to build a house around a square, or 
the centre space or well, and another derivative verb 
tarabba'a, meaning to sit cross-legged on the floor with 
the feet under the thighs. 

According to Al Fairuz Abadl, the word murabba' ah 
derives from raba\ i.e. an abode, a district or a house; 
and from tarbt, i.e. a place for dwelling or sitting in the 
springtime such as an arbour, or a seat. Ghaleb, in his 
Encyclopedia of Architecture, notes that the design and 
construction of the murabba l ah should serve the purpose 
of a majlis, a reception hall or a takiyyah. The Arabic 

word iwan (or liwan) could also be used in a similar sense 
as majlis, and for a place for holding meetings and other 

The term murabba l ah was cited by historians 
and geographers of old, when they narrated historical 
episodes and described locations of towns or districts 
involving renowned personages or occurrences. The 
most famous of the murabba'at, according to Arab 
historian Al Tabarl (d. 923), in his Chronicle of Nations and 
Kings (Tarlkh al-'Umam wa al Muluk), was Abl Al Abbas 
Al Fadl Bin Sulaiman Al Tusy's murabba l ah. In this 
chronicle we come across the following: 'The village in 
Murabba'at Abl Al Abbas . . . was named al Wardaniyah, 
and the other village, which still stands today, was named 
after Murabba'at Abl Farwah ...'.'... It was reported that 
he saw ['Abbasid Caliph] Al-Mu'tasim riding away from 
the mosque [in Baghdad] ... and when he reached 
Murabba'at Al Hursh ...';'■•• Abu Al- Abbas Muhammad 
Bin Al-Muqtadr rode away from the palace ... he 
was intercepted by a man at Murabba'at Al Hursh ...'; 
' . . . and they feared a throng of troops would come out to 
fight from the murabba l ah ...'; and ' . . . the master of the 
zunj (negroes) ... his followers dispersed ... until they 
reached Murabba'at Dubba ...'. 



Historian and geographer Yaqut Al Hamawi 
(d. 1229), in his geographic lexicon Mu'jam Al-Buldan, 
mentions several murabba'at - Dubba, Al KhurasI, Abl Al 
Abbas and Al-Furs. He further describes the location of 
Muraba'at Dubba as within the area of Basrah, which 
boasts villages and canals, the greatest of which feeds 
from the Tigris and was dug during the reign of 'Abbasid 
Caliph AlRashld. 

Moreover, historian and geographer Al Ya'qubl 
of Baghdad (d. after 905) mentions the murabba'ab in 
describing the construction of al Ja'fariyyah, the town 
built by 'Abbasid Caliph Al Mutawakil: ' . . . the suqs were 
erected in a separate location, and in each murabba'ab 
and district, a marketplace was established, and the 
mosque was built in the year 247'. 

We can deduce from the above that the murabba'ab, 
according to historical evidence is, in design and con- 
struction, an architectural unit, whether separate from or 
incorporated into other structures. It is a term which 
designates a residential architectural unit. 

Kmurabba'ah was usually given a famous name to be 
known by. It could be named after the builder or the area 
in which it stood; it could also be given the name of a 
political event or even an element of nature. Dr Salih 
Ahmad Al 'All in his khutat al Basrah {Plans of Basrah) 
quotes from critic Ibn Salam Al-Jumahi of Basrah 
(d. 846), who speaks of Murabba'at Bam Manqar of the 
Tamlm tribe and also of Murabba'at Bam Kilab of the 
Qahtanl tribe which, he notes, people peculiarly called 
Murabba'at kilab, the plural of kalb, the Arabic word for 

'Abbasid writer Al Jahiz (d. 868), in his Book of 
Animals (Kitab Al-Haywan), refers to the murabba'ab 
('the sellers of Muraba'at Manqar'), as does historian 
Al-Baladhirl (d. 892) in his Conquests (Futuh) when he 
speaks of Murabba'at Bab Uthman on the way to Marbad, 
named after Uthman Bin Abl Al 'As, a companion of 
the Prophet. The famed Andalusian traveller Ibn Jubayr 
(d. 1217) in his Journey, upon arriving in Baghdad, 
wrote: 'we stayed in a suburb known by the name of 
Murabba'ab, on the Tigris, near the bridge'. 

Here, the term murabba'ab is used to indicate an 
architectural unit regardless of whether the intended 

purpose of the structure was social or defensive. Yet 
more often than not, the murabba 'ah is constructed as 
an architectural unit of a military nature incorporating 
elements of defence, and the name is given to such 
a structure because it is designed as a square. This is 
despite the fact that the figurative meaning oimurabba'ah 
is taken from the wordpdus, i.e. sitting (cross-legged) 
on the floor, and from the words which indicate the 
place for sitting or resting in springtime, marbba' and 
maq'ad - and also from tarbt, i.e. to sit cross-legged, 
rather than kneeling or squatting. 

On the other hand, the word murabba'ab is also 
employed to indicate an area, a stretch of land or a 
district in a town (a quarter), without necessarily having 
a murabba'ab (i.e. a square structure) in it, although 
the pattern of the area may have been planned as a 
square. We read of this in Al-Tabarl: '... the village in 
Murabba'at Abl Al 'Abbas was the village of his maternal 

From the above, we know that murabba'ab was 
employed to indicate both a structure likely to be designed 
as a square, or an area planned as a square, i.e. a district 
whose buildings are located in a square area. Here we are 
concerned with the murabba'ab as an architectural unit 
not only in terms of its design and elements, but also in 
terms of its social and military function. 

Finally, it should be noted that in certain areas such 
as in Sharjah, the murabba'ab is called a ghurfah (room) 
instead. This term is actually employed to refer to a 
number of murabba'at in Ra's Al Khaymah, such as 
the 'Ghurfat al Qasldat', the 'Ghuraf al 'Uraybl', the 
'Ghuraf al Baqlshl', and 'Ghuraf Abu 'Abla', which is a 
murabba'ab on the island of Al Hamra. 


Analysis of the architectural 
elements of the murabba'ah 

An analysis of the architectural elements of the 
murabba 'ah requires a study of its design and its 

Design and form 

The Arabic name al murabba'ah for this architectural 
unit is self-indicative - it is a square. But in 
fact, once the design is actually being executed at the 
construction site, and the foundations of the walls begin 
to appear, the difference between the meaning of the 
name and the actual structure soon becomes apparent. 

All murabba' at, both those that are incorporated 
into buildings and those that are separate secluded 
structures, are rectangular in shape. The dimensions of 
the opposite sides of the murabba'ah are usually equal. 
Therefore, murabba'ah is just a term, not indicative of 
a shape. The term murabba'ah is derived from the word 
for a familiar social habit in Arab as well as Muslim 
communities - the habit of sitting cross-legged, i.e. 
tarabba'a. Thus, the name murabba'ah was a commonly 
used term, without it meaning a rectangular shape. 
Moreover, meetings, social or otherwise, did not have to 
be held in a place which is square in form; rather, it is 
well known that the murabba'ah, in location and size, 
is ordinarily a comfortable place to meet or to sit in 
every day. It served as a club and a meeting place for the 
inhabitants of the area at a time when clubs and coffee 
shops were still unknown. The murabba 'ah compensated 
for this feature of social life. 

The plans designated foundations for a rectangular 
structure whether the murabba'ah was a separate secluded 
structure or incorporated into another building. Its 
location as part of structures such as palaces and castles 
is of no significance. Whether it was in the corner or the 
centre of a building did not change the fact that its 
dimensions clearly indicated that it would be rectangular 
rather than square, as its name suggests. 

When designing a murabba'ah, the initial step 
was to determine its location - whether it was to be the 
separate secluded type or a structure incorporated into a 
larger plan for a qasr or a hum. This was followed by 
determining the measurements of the foundations - the 
dimensions, length and breadth and the depth and 
thickness. This would be followed by the steps necessary 
for preparing the site for construction. 

The depth of the foundations depended on the 
quality and composition of the soil, which determined 
the depth possible for the foundations to evenly distribute 
the load of the walls, ceilings and roofs. The width and 
the thickness of the walls should be proportional to the 
determined height of the murabba'ah, and the degree of 
inclination or slope of the wall elevations. The murabba'ah 
is often characterized by the inclination of its four walls. 
This is in conformity with an architectural principle: it 
reinforces the strength of the walls. This slight inclination 
can be noted in the external wall elevations and in the 
front elevation extending from the ground up to the edges 
of the crenellated battlements with its windows, and the 
entrance opening with its loopholes and embrasures. 

The wall elevations within were perpendicular to 
the ground floor, with niches or square openings. The 
opening of the entrance traversed one of the sides of 
the murabba'ah on the ground floor. There might also 
have been windows overlooking the inner grounds or 
courtyard, especially in the murabba' at that were part of 
a larger structure. 

The interior wall elevations of the murabba'ah^ first 
storey showed the opening of the entrance and had a 
window overlooking the outer grounds, in addition to 
embrasures and the openings of the vertical loopholes. 
The front elevation was vertical and a wooden staircase 
may be found in one of its corners. 

The width of the foundations and walls was 
proportional to the height of the murabba'ah. The 



murabba'ah of Al Shamsl in Sharjah clearly shows the 
difference in width between the base and the top of 
the wall as a result of the inclination: at the base the 
width is 60 centimetres, but at the top it is 30 centimetres, 
a difference of 30 centimetres in the descending line of 
the exterior wall elevation. 

The inclination could be seen from the front, rear 
and side elevations of the murabba'ah, whether it was 
a separate secluded structure or incorporated into a 
building - especially when it was built within the lofty 
husun. It can also be seen in the foundations of the 
murabba'ah in the husun of Dlbba and Kalba', planned on 
an elevated platform or mastabah with slanting walls. 
Each murabba'ah is located in the middle of the structure, 
with a characteristic slope of wall elevations on the ground 
floor and the first storey, which helped to reinforce the 
building and facilitated both defence and surveillance 
and provided the defenders with a commanding position 
against attackers. 

During construction, the front elevation of the 
murabba'ah could be decorated with certain patterns - for 
example perpendicular steppings starting from the base 
or just above it, which could be vertical straight lines 
or squares or rectangles. The use of vertical steppings 
served to reinforce it. The steppings bind and fasten 
the construction materials of the walls and add an 
aesthetic element to the murabba'ah. The gradation with 
the varying degree of depth gives the elevations the 
appearance of an artistic mural, and the murabba'ah an 
attractive articulation. This element contributes to the 
wall elevations of a defence-oriented structure as a means 
for artistic expression. 

These steppings in the front elevation could also 
save the use of primary materials, especially since the 
walls are usually thick and wide at the base. Their use 
may lead the builder to have ribbed the front elevation 
and line the base to project part of it, or work on the 
corners to complement the square towers incorporated 
into the front elevation. 

Horizontal gradations or steppings sometimes 
characterize the different storeys of murabba'at. These 
appear in the form of lines or gradations around the 
elevations of the murabba'ah, whose ground floor is wider 

in area than the uppermost part, in accordance with 
the principle of sloping elevations. This architectural 
element reduces the steepness of the inclination from 
one floor to another. 

Most front elevations of murabba 'at however are 
devoid of vertical and horizontal steppings and the front 
elevation shows only loopholes, machicolations, windows 
and doors. 

This principle of alignment is the essential element 
in the construction of the murabba'' ah as a defence 
structure. It reinforces the defence capability of the 
murabba' ah: the defenders are better positioned to watch 
for assailants and determine the position of the enemy. 
That is why most murabba' at are devoid of steppings 
or gradations. 

The size of the murabba' ah depends on its type: the 
size of a separate secluded murabba' ah depends on its 
location, while that of a murabba' ah incorporated into a 
larger structure such as a fort or a hum is proportional to 
the elements of the larger structure. 

The design of the murabba 'ah can be seen in the 
foundations of its walls, the location of the entrance 
on the ground floor and the first storey, the position and 
distribution of the niches and the location of the store 
room (where weapons and other tools are hung). The 
design determines the degree of inclination of the front, 
rear and side elevations, the location of the staircase 
leading to the upper storey and also the location of 
windows and other openings, such as loopholes and 
crenellated battlements, in addition to the slope of the 
roof to allow for rain water drainage through gutters of 
various sizes made of wood or hollowed tree trunks. 

The entrance 

The location of the entrance is an essential element 
in the planning of the murabba' ah, whether it 
is one-storeyed or two-storeyed. The entrances have 
narrow openings; they are narrower and lower in height 
than the entrances of adjacent residential or service units. 
The location of the entrance is often in the middle of 
the longer side of the rectangle. This entrance traverses 
the thickness of the wall, and the door is slightly elevated, 
about 10-20 centimetres from ground level. This feature 


helps prevent the leaking in of rain water and ensures the 
sturdiness and resistance of the entrance opening, rein- 
forces the foundations and reduces height of the opening. 

The locations of the doors of the murabba'ab on the 
ground floor and first storey were vertically aligned. This 
served a defensive purpose, for it enabled the guards on 
the first floor to command and defend the entrance on 
the ground floor. Sometimes, however, there may not be 
an entrance to the first storey of a murabba'ab. In this 
case the ground-floor entrance would lead to the first 
storey through an opening in the ceiling, which could be 
reached by a fixed or moveable ladder. This is similar to 
the style of tower entrances, where the upper floors are 
also reached through openings in the ceilings. 

The shape of the door was indicative of the defence 
function of the murabba'ab. All its elements and parts 
suggest one objective: to render the murabba'ab strong, 
sturdy and ultimately defensible. The door was similar 
in shape and style to the other wooden doors in the 
residential unit within which the murabba'ab was situated, 
or other nearby buildings. It was made of whatever kind 
of wood was available, but usually of the solid resistant 
kind such as teak wood. Sometimes, trunks of palm 
trees were used. These were nailed to rough, strong and 
resistant side boards. 

More often than not, the doors were padlocked 
from the inside, to be opened and closed by the guards 
and the defenders of the murabba'ab. Some of the doors 
would have two sliding bolts in opposite directions on 
the inside, for more security. 

All the materials and parts used to mount the 
wooden doors needed to be fortified for a structure 
whose function was defence. Big long nails were used, 
with their ends hooked around the door jambs on the 
inside. Little ornamentation adorned the doors of 
murabba'at. They were simple doors, and any carvings 
would be similar to those adorning the doors of adjacent 
units or nearby buildings. The doors were often two-leaf 
doors with strong resistant jambs. The nails used were 
made of iron or copper and were more numerous on the 
inside for added security, with pivot hinges. We may find 
metal door leaves and wood incorporated into the frame 
at the bottom and the top of the jamb. 

The entrances to the murabba'ab on the ground 
floor and the first storey seem to have smaller dimensions 
compared to entrances of other nearby buildings, and 
in relation to the size of the murabba'ab as a whole. 
The principle dictating this peculiarity was the need to 
strengthen the defences of the structure against the 
assault of enemies since the murabba'ab is a defence unit. 

The entrance to the murabba'ab was sometimes 
vaulted, but this is a rare feature. Sometimes the entrance 
could have thick protruding sides along the height of the 
door, thicker than the walls of the murabba'ab. These 
walls are known to be thick, but here, while the walls 
might be 30 centimetres thick, the protruding sides 
would be 50 centimetres thick. 

The windows 

Windows are essential and distinctive elements in 
the murabba'ab. They allow in daylight and 
fresh air, in addition to their function as observation and 
surveillance points. They stretch across the walls of the 
murabba 'ah on the first storey and overlook the interior 
courtyard in the type of structure which is incorporated 
within residential units, or that is surrounded by a wall 
connected to one of the sides - where windows on the 
interior wall elevation are particularly important. 

The height of interior windows overlooking a 
courtyard varies from 30-50 centimetres or more from 
floor level. This leads us to believe that the ground floor 
of the murabba'ab was used as a storehouse for foodstuffs 
or weapons. The height of the windows was an added 
element of defence as it rendered them out of reach, 
or difficult for attackers to climb through. As for 
their shape, rectangular windows with wooden frames 
predominated in the murabba'ah's ground floor. We may 
also find other openings or windows that are frameless 
and square, triangular or even circular in shape, and that 
are mostly found in one-storeyed murabba 'at built with 
mud. Their function, in addition to ventilation, was 
to allow in daylight. They could be closed for whatever 
purpose, mostly in winter, using mud bricks. 

On the ground floor, some windows appear in the 
upper parts of the walls. Their function was ventilation 
and allowing in daylight, but sometimes these openings 



were circular and served as surveillance points. Circular 
loopholes were also found in the upper parapet over- 
looking the grounds, and often in the parapet over the 
entrances. Serving as surveillance points, these loopholes 
commanded the area outside the murabba l ah, reinforcing 
the defence of the structure. Examples of such an 
architectural element can be found in the city of Sharjah 
- in the upper parapet above the entrance of Bayt 
Al-Nabudah (presently the Heritage Museum) and in the 
parapet of Bayt Al-Sirkal in the area of Al-Shuwayhin 
(presently the Arts Museum), and also in the area of 
Murayjah. Moreover, there are windows in the side walls 
of the m.urabba i ah on the ground floor, overlooking the 
outer area in front of the murabba'ah and also the inner 
courtyard, if the structure is an incorporated murabba l ah. 
Square or rectangular windows appear in the side 
walls of the first storey. They are of two types. 

The rectangular window 

There are examples of rectangular windows in the 
side walls of the murabba'ah which have wood frames and 
are divided in the middle by a wooden transom. These 
windows were secured by iron grilles and were closed by 
means of wooden shutters. Wooden-framed windows 
were mounted at a depth of 10 centimetres from the 
outer surface of the wall, and, when closed, were usually 
secured by wooden bolts. The dimensions of the windows 
varied in length from 1.5-1.8 metres and in width from 
80-110 centimetres. They were located at a height of 
50 centimetres or more above the floor of the first 

Another type of rectangular window is also found in 
a murabba'ah. They seem to have been located with the 
sole purpose of surveillance while the watcher was sitting 
on the roof of the first storey. The best known example 
of this type of window can be found in the murabba'ah of 
'All Bin Rashid in the village of Al Khan in the Emirate 
of Sharjah. It is divided into two sections. The lower 
section is only one-quarter of the whole window, and is 
latticed woodwork. The upper section is secured by iron 
bars fitted lengthwise into the wooden frame. It is closed 
by wooden shutters and secured by a sliding wooden 

The use of the upper part of the rectangular 
windows as ventilation shafts indicates that when the 
windows were closed, the bad gir-style air-shafts were 
used to ventilate the murabbalah. These windows could 
be opened and closed according to need, circumstances 
and climatic conditions, and could be used for watching 
and observation since the thickness of the walls provided 
enough space to accommodate a seated person. 

This type of window was also used in towers. 

The square window 

The square windows of the murabba'ah could be designed 
in two ways. The first is a wooden-framed window 
with iron bars, or an iron grille, fitted across the opening. 
The function of these windows was the same as those 
described above. They are horizontally positioned in the 
middle of the walls of the first storey. 

The second type of square window is a mere 
opening in the wall of the murabba'ah, but whose sides 
have an inward inclination so that the outside opening is 
larger than the inside opening. The purpose of such 
windows was for defence. They gave the defender a 
better, wider view of the area outside the m.urabba'' ah, and 
the attacker a narrower opening through which to aim at 
the defenders inside. Such windows were located 20-30 
centimetres above the floor level of the first storey. They 
were covered and painted with the same liquid material 
used for the interior walls of the m.urabba 1 ' ah. An iron 
grille was fitted over the front of the window and was 
fixed to the wooden frame. It usually had geometric or 
floral designs such as carved leaves, and was used for better 
security and defence as well as for aesthetic reasons. 
Objects such as jugs, pitchers or jars were often placed on 
the ledge of the window, and in certain seasons fruit such 
as dates were placed there too. But these uses depended 
on the circumstances prevailing in the area where the 
murabba'ah was located. People, old and young, would 
gather there on special occasions, especially during 
feasts and the holy month of Ramadan. Thus, it was the 
'marbad' or social club of the area where adults sat at the 
front and the children at the back to listen to a storyteller 
narrating stories or anecdotes and to learn the moral, 
social and military lessons of such tales. 


The location of the windows in the murabba 'ah is 
important. It is determined by considering the need to 
allow in daylight and fresh air and that the occupants 
must be able to view the grounds, observe what goes on 
around them and learn the news of the area. 

The embrasures 

The embrasures are found in the upper parts of 
the walls. Their size and number is in proportion 
to the size of the murabba'ah, the thickness of its walls 
and the building materials used. They appear in various 
shapes: circular, rectangular or square. These small 
openings are made during the construction of the walls. 
They were planned in advance and their position was 
usually 20-30 centimetres below the ceiling. Wooden 
lintels (or tree trunks) span over these openings to 
reinforce the structure, particularly when the embrasures 
were located in the walls that support the wood of the 
roofs. This method is applied in making all kinds of 

Circular embrasures are 15-20 centimetres in 
diameter, while the dimensions of the rectangular kind 
are 30x20 centimetres and those of the square kind 
30x30 centimetres. These small openings may have a 
wooden frame with one or two iron bars fitted to it. 
When the embrasure is circular it may not have a frame 
so it is merely an opening, sometimes intersected by a 
wooden or iron bar. 

The embrasures in the murabba' ah allowed daylight 
in and ventilated the structure, especially during winter 
when fires were lit. In addition, iron grilles kept out birds 
and partly filled up the openings, and could be opened or 
shut as needed, depending on weather conditions. The 
embrasures are usually 1.5-2 metres apart, and appear on 
all storeys of the murabba' ah on all four sides. 

These embrasures do not affect the architectural 
features or hinder their functions. Whatever their 
type, the embrasures were all reinforced at the top with 
shandal wood, tree trunks or solid, resistant wooden 
boards to fortify the walls. Embrasures also helped 
maintain room temperature within the murabba' ah since 
their small size does not actually allow them to help in 
ventilating the interior. However, the height of their 

location in the walls helped to expel warm, stale air as 
cooler currents entered below from under the doors. 

At first, it seems that the architectural plan of the 
murabba'ah in Sharjah did not provide for air shafts in the 
elevations. Yet, we do know of the existence of air shafts in 
the elevations of other murabba'at such as the Al-'Uraybl 
murabba' ah, located in the area of Al-'Uraybl in Ra's al 
Khaymah, so it is likely that such air shafts will be found 
in the dilapidated murabba' ah during the restoration 
process, which involves scraping the wall elevations to 
reveal this architectural and artistic feature. 

The staircases 

taircases as essential architectural features in the 
design of murabba'at are given due consideration 
during the process of construction. They are an element 
of defence which serves to reinforce the ability to defend 
the murabba 'ah against an enemy assault. As such, the 
design of the murabba 'ah takes into account the kind of 
staircases that should be built for the structure and their 

The external staircases 

External staircases are found in the two-storeyed 
murabba 'at. They were often connected to other living 
quarters or residential units within palaces, castles and 
fortresses. In these cases, an iwan or roofed passage may 
be found near to or in front of the murabba'afs, since the 
external staircase, which was often built adjacent to one 
of the sides of the murabba'ah, served as a means to climb 
up and down to the first storey. 

An external staircase leading to the entrance of the 
first storey was built with the same primary materials 
used in building the rest of the murabba'ah. The form it 
was given was often indicative of its value as an element 
of defence. It was either narrow or built as a spiral staircase 
winding around a column to restrict speed of movement. 
Such external staircases are found in other murabba'at in 
the living quarters and the service units, for example in 
the murabba'ah of Al Shamsl in Sharjah and the residence 
of Sa'ld Bin Saqr Al QasimI in Khor Fakkan. 

In a murabba'ah of only one storey, an external 
staircase may be located adjacent to the side of the 



structure, leading to the roof of the ground floor. This 
allowed the occupants of the murabba'ah, notably in 
Mesopotamia, in northern regions of Saudi Arabia and in 
Yemeni villages, to use the roofs in the summer as a place 
to socialize in the hot evenings, or even as a place to 
spend summer nights. A wooden ladder may be used to 
reach the first storey, which could be placed and moved 
as needed. This is also another aspect of defence in the 

The external staircase of a one-storeyed murabba'ah 
was built with the steps winding around a column, with 
the wood of the steps fixed to the wall of the structure, 
making it more difficult to climb and thus rendering 
the murabba'ah better protected from attackers. This 
staircase could lead up to the roof of an vwan in front of 
the entrance to the first storey. 

Internal staircases 

This type of staircase leading to the various floors of 
the murabba'ah is another architectural feature with a 
defence function. It has various types: the fixed staircase, 
the wooden staircase and the vertical (straight) staircase. 

The fixed staircase 

This type of staircase is designed and built during the 
construction of the murabba'ah. It is incorporated into 
one of the interior sides, and links the ground floor to the 
first storey and the upper story to the roof. It was built 
with the same primary materials used for building the 
walls of the murabba'ah. It may be incorporated into one 
of the smaller sides of a rectangular murabba 'ah or into 
one of the longer ones, but wherever it is placed the 
empty space beneath the steps is always used as storage 
space on the first storey. On the ground floor it was 
either closed up or may also have been used as storage 

The exit opening of the staircase in the roof of the 
first or second storey is a square 80 x 80 centimetres, big 
enough to allow the passage of one person. Its location 
was planned during the construction of the roof. An 
empty space was left between the wooden parts and other 
materials of the roof. When constructed three sides of 
the square opening were ridged, the fourth side being 

against the wall. A wooden hand grip imaqbad) was 
fitted to the upper wall to help people climb through the 

During the construction of the fixed staircase, the 
steep and difficult climb was of no consequence to the 
designer, who took only the functional and defence 
aspects into account. The steps were often narrow 
and very high (18-20 centimetres). They were usually 
covered with mud and gypsum, the materials used for 
the interior of the murabba'ah. A wooden handrail was 
sometimes mounted all the way along the edge of the 
staircase to help users at night, or to help speed up the 
climb. This handrail may also have been fixed to the wall. 

The wooden staircase 

The wooden staircase is used to connect the floors of the 
murabba'ah. It is mounted adjacent to one of the walls 
and leads to an opening in the ceiling leading to the roof 
of the first or the upper storey. The opening is made in 
one of the corners of the murabba'ah. 

To secure it, this wooden staircase may sometimes 
be fixed to the floor or to the opening on the roof to 
prevent it from slipping. It was usually made of two 
pieces of wood for the sides with wooden steps fixed with 
long nails that are attached and twisted over the sides 
from the outside, for increased durability. The distance 
between the steps ranges from 25 to 30 centimetres. The 
wooden staircase is rectangular. It is often wider at its 
base than at its top. This feature assures sturdiness since 
the load is distributed on the larger base. The dimensions 
of the wooden parts vary. The sides are either square or 
rectangular (8 x 10 centimetres), while the steps are 
smaller - less than 6-8 centimetres. 

The vertical or straight staircase 

This type of staircase is located in a corner. Wooden 
steps, 50-60 centimetres in length and 6-8 centimetres 
in depth, were mounted and fixed to the inner wall 
elevation and thus incorporated into the building 10-15 
centimetres into the wall, to render it more sturdy. 
This staircase does not take up too much space in the 
murabba'ah and offered an additional element of defence. 
It occupied the least possible space in the corner of the 


murabba'ah and was the vertical means of communication 
between the floors. 

We sometimes find a square base adjacent to two 
sides in a corner of the murabba'ah, its size identical 
to the size of the opening in the upper ceiling. This is 
considered to be the first step of the staircase or its 
threshold. It is 20-25 centimetres above the level of the 
ground floor or the first storey. In addition, an elevation 
is often found in a corner of the first storey. Certain 
objects are often placed here, but it is also where the 
upper staircase exits from, as noted in the Murabba'ah of 
Sa'ldAl Shamsl. 

The storeys of the murabba'ah 

The design of a murabba'ah is defined by the 
objectives of building the structure: whether it is to 
be separate and secluded or incorporated into another 

The one-storeyed murabba'ah is usually rectangular, 
with an entrance door at one corner and a fireplace in 
the middle of one of its longer sides, or in a corner. 
The fireplace could also be found in the centre of the 
murabba'ah for better heating in winter. In hot regions, 
the fireplace is located in a corner and was of no essential 
use except for preparing coffee or for light cooking. A 
small room may sometimes be built above the murabba'ah, 
especially the incorporated type. It has a moveable roof 
and is built for specific uses. 

The type of murabba'ah determines the primary 
materials to be used in its construction. Mud, bricks, 
stripped palm branches and reed cannot be used in 
constructing a murabba'ah of more than one floor. 

The multi-storeyed murabba'ah usually found 
incorporated into houses, palaces, castles and fortresses 
is built of stone or bricks. It usually has two or three 
storeys and the upper parapet is built with elevated sides 
in the form of supports for a light roof structure (a 
canopy) to protect from the heat of the sun. The guards 
use this place in the hot summer. The murabba'ah, or 
majlis, incorporated into such buildings as palaces, 
castles and fortresses is sometimes located on the first 
storey, the ground floor being the service quarters. If the 
murabba'ah is an incorporated structure, it is located 

either in a corner or at the entrance, and sometimes in 
the middle of the building where all passages lead to it. 

The one-storeyed murabba'ah is built according to 
the methods previously described, with sloping sides. 
It is a lofty structure, and its height ranges from 3-4 
metres. The guest section is located in the middle with a 
catenary vault distinguished by a small entrance. 

An example of a lofty murabba'ah can be found in the 
qasabah in the area of Al Murayjah in Sharjah, which 
features a fixed interior staircase built of stone and gypsum, 
located in the south-eastern corner of the structure. 

In the incorporated murabba'ah, the interior walls 
have windows of various sizes and embrasures in the 
upper parts which overlook the inner courtyard. Some of 
these murabba'at have an interior staircase, while others 
have an exterior staircase either adjacent to one of the 
sides or under an izvan or canopy on the ground floor. 
The exterior staircase is usually a spiral staircase. 

The first storey is 30-50 centimetres less in height 
than the ground floor, and it is less spacious due to the 
sloping wall elevations which are more evident from the 
outside than from the inside (a slight inclination of 10-15 
centimetres), even with the plastering and occasional 
decorative frieze. Windows of various sizes are found 
in the walls of the first storey of a murabba'ah. If 
the murabba 'ah is a separate secluded structure then the 
windows are found in all four walls overlooking the 
grounds in all directions. In the incorporated murabba'ah, 
the windows are in the open side, facing the outer square 
or the inner courtyard. 

In one of the side walls of the first storey, but more 
often above the entrance, a machicolation is often located. 
It is a defence feature which allows for surveillance and 
detection of any movement or approach towards the 
entrance. It also has an opening through which to 
hurl boiling liquids on assailants. The machicolation 
could also be located in the walls of the ground floor of 
the murabba'ah above the windows, if there are any. 
However, the machicolation does not necessarily feature 
in a\\ murabba'at. 

An example of a two-storeyed murabba'ah is the 
murabba'ah of Qasr al Abyad in the city of Manamah in 
the Emirate of 'Ajman. 



The loopholes 

The existence of loopholes in various sizes and 
shapes is indicative of a murabba'ah built as a 
defence structure with architectural features designated 
for defence purposes. These loopholes could be found in 
the following shapes. 

The vertical loopholes 

Slits, 10-15 centimetres in width and 40-50 centimetres 
in length, are made in the wall elevations of the 
murabba'ah on the first and second storeys, and also the 
upper parapet. The vertical loophole is rectangular in 
shape. At the exterior it is of wider dimensions. It is 
located at a height of 40-60 centimetres from the floor, 
and enables the defender to see through and fire missiles 
at the enemy. 

From within the murabba'ah, the loophole inclines 
towards the outside. This downward incline is steeper in 
some murabba'at than others and thus some vertical 
loopholes offer a better command of the exterior. The 
inside opening is 5-8 centimetres wide. This method 
better fortified the murabba'ah as it offered the defenders 
inside a commanding view of the outside without allowing 
the enemy to detect their movements, and also allowed 
them to aim their arrows and other weapons through the 
slits without hitting the guards. 

In providing the murabba'ah with vertical loopholes, 
the design must take into account the following elements 
to strengthen the defence capability: 
i the rectangular opening is narrower on the inside 

than it is on the outside; 
ii the downwards slope of the slit towards the outside 

should be steep, at least to a degree that allowed 

surveillance of the front courtyard of the structure 

and any approaches towards the walls; 
iii the rectangular opening on the inside should be 

inclined to a degree that prevented direct passage of 

projectiles to the inside; 
iv the defenders could be given a better view if the 

outside opening is made larger; 
v finally, for better fortification, the vertical loopholes 

were made with the same materials used to build the 

rest of the murabba'ah. No wood or other materials 

are used, and the upper rectangular opening is set 
during the construction of the wall elevation. 

The horizontal loopholes 

There are also horizontal loopholes which function as 
surveillance points. Some are level with the floor of the 
first storey or pierce through the ceiling of the first 
storey or the roof of the second storey. They are often 
located above the entrance through which to watch 
approaches to the murabba'ah, or to pour boiling liquid 
onto an enemy assailing the entrance. 

The horizontal loopholes are made as the walls 
are constructed, using the same primary construction 
materials. They are 60-80 centimetres in length and 
5-7 centimetres in width, and the opening is narrower 
at the top than at the bottom to allow a wider view and 
provide a larger targeting area. 

These horizontal loopholes were useful for the 
defence of structures such as forts, castles, palaces and 
murabba'at. When the enemy came close to the walls, it 
became easy to strike with arrows or boiling liquids. A 
good example is Qasr al Ukhaidir in the western desert 
in Iraq. Dating from the middle of the second century of 
the Hegira, it has horizontal loopholes in the ceiling of its 
entrance hall and also in the passage of the exterior wall 
(sur), at the top of the niches. Such horizontal loopholes 
are also evident in Khan al Rahbah (built in the twelfth 
century of the Hegira), the murabba'ah of al Rams and 
the murabba 'ah of the Jazlrt al Hamra fortress in the 
Emirate of Ra's al Khaymah. 1 

Though of limited use in the defence of the 
murabba'ah, these horizontal loopholes are considered to 
be useful additional elements of defence. Like vertical 
loopholes, they are often found in structures such as 
forts, castles and palaces and in large houses serving as 
residences for rulers and tribal shaykhs, and especially 
in multi-storeyed murabba'at, in enclosure walls and 
entrances. But they are not found in the murabba'at that 
serve as reception halls or guest houses (rab'at) which 
only have a ground floor. 

The circular loopholes 

Circular loopholes used as surveillance points traverse 


JA'AH 249 

the thickness of the walls on the first and second storeys 
and in the upper parapet of the murabba'ah. They are 
distributed in all the wall elevations of the structure in 
accordance with the level of defence required. They 
allowed the defenders to command the grounds around 
the murabba'ah, whether it was a separate secluded 
structure or connected to part of a building - the design 
should consider that the defence action needs to be 
through the openings in the wall elevations commanding 
the area outside the murabba'ah rather than through 
those overlooking the inner courtyard. 

The circular loopholes are built during the process 
of constructing and aligning the walls of the murabba'ah, 
using the same primary materials. They are often dis- 
tributed horizontally, parallel to the floor, at a height 
convenient for the movement of the defenders within. 
The height of the circular loopholes differs from one 
storey to another, including the upper parapet. The 
height of the circular loophole could range from 60-80 
centimetres. As for their horizontal distribution, the 
circular loopholes are located in various places between 
the vertical loopholes. So for example there could be one 
circular loophole between two vertical loopholes, or 
one vertical loophole between two circular ones. This 
distribution differs when there are windows overlooking 
the area outside the murabba'ah - in which case the 
location of the circular loopholes is determined by 
the existing space and the correctly measured distance 
between the windows. 

The number of circular loopholes in the murabba'ah 
varies. It depends on whether or not there is a door, 
a large window, embrasures or a machicolation. Such 

elements would determine the location and number of 
the circular loopholes. They are more numerous in the 
upper storeys, but are also found in murabba'at with only 
a ground floor (i.e. reception halls or rab'at). In such 
murabba'at, the circular loopholes were used for viewing, 
ventilation and airing the interior. 

While the construction of the circular loopholes 
was done during the construction of the walls, their 
size, shape and location were designed in advance. They 
are very often horizontally aligned with the base of the 
vertical loopholes. Their location from the interior is at a 
height which offered the defenders a commanding view 
of the outside and a useful range of vision. The opening 
of the loophole could clearly be seen from the outside 
between the vertical loopholes. They are built with an 
incline to the front or the side to offer a commanding 
view to the corners of the murabba'ah or building. 

The circular loopholes were built with an incline 
sloping from the top downwards (i.e. from the inside 
towards the outside). The length of the loophole depends 
on the depth of the wall and the degree of incline. 
The diameter of the circular loophole ranges from 10-12 
centimetres on the inside and from 1 2 to 1 5 centimetres 
on the outside, and sometimes has a chamfered (or 
bevelled) edge. 

Vertical and circular loopholes are grouped together 
in a certain part of the building for surveillance and for 
commanding the surrounding area like at a border point. 
This was usually in one corner of the building in one of 
its upper storeys. A good example is the shade parapet 
(zallah) on the roof of the upper storey of the murabba'ah 
in the fort of Maqta'. 

The dimensions of circular loopholes 

Construction material 


Diameter from the 
interior (in cm) 

Diameter from the 
outside (in cm) 



Ground floor 



Regularly placed within the wall 

Sun-dried bricks 

Ground floor 



Regularly placed within the wall 





A small opening for viewing 

Baked bricks 

First storey 



Sloping towards the exterior 

Stone (coral and mountain) 

First storey 



Sloping towards the exterior 



The triangular loopholes 

Triangular openings in the facade could have the two 
sides resting on the base or they could be inverted. This 
type of loophole functioned as a means for watching 
the grounds and ventilating the murabba'ab, as well as 
allowing in daylight. Such triangular loopholes are found 
in some murabba'at in the Gulf region, and especially 
in the UAE. They are located in the lower parts of 
the building near the floor of the first storey or in the 
upper part of the ground-floor wall. The lower-placed 
openings functioned as means of surveillance, while the 
upper ones served to ventilate the murabba'ab and allow 
in daylight. 

These loopholes are either equilateral or isosceles 
triangles. They offer the defending guards a commanding 
position of the grounds, and the angle helped them 
change their targets during engagement with an enemy 
in the foregrounds of the murabba'ab. 


Machicolations are found in the front elevation of 
the murabba'ab above the windows and entrances. Its 
aligned position with these features allowed a com- 
manding view over the immediate area around the 
murabba'ab. It is an important element of defence, and 
its lower opening was used by the defenders to fire their 
arrows or pour boiling liquids on assailants when they 
were close to the murabba'ab. The machicolation can be 
seen from the outside in the front elevation of the 
murabba'ab and in its upper parts, if the structure has 
more than one storey. It may also be found on all four 
sides of the murabba'ab, depending on the location of 
the entrances and windows. 

The machicolation was built during the process of 
constructing the wall elevations of the murabba'ab. Pieces 
of wood (of different kinds and sizes) were mounted 
into the wall to stick out through the front elevation in a 
sloping fashion as two sides of a triangle, the base being 
the surface of the wall. The two sides would meet at an 
acute angle to form an isosceles triangle. After mounting 
the protruding pieces of wood, the primary materials 
were laid. These are the same as the materials used 
to construct the wall elevations. Mud or gypsum is used 

for bonding the building materials. The wood was 
also coated, but the triangular shape of the sides was 
preserved. The sides were then brought closer until 
they formed a line at the top - the overhang of the 
machicolation. This low protective wall along the edge 
of the machicolation was important for sturdiness during 
an attack. 2 Some murabba'at are not furnished with 
machicolations and defence depends instead on the 
windows which overlook the grounds, especially those 
above the entrance of the murabba'ab and the other types 
of loopholes. 

The size and dimensions of machicolations may 
vary, but they all have a similar shape even if they are 
built with different construction materials. They have 
the same lower opening necessary for defending the 
doors and windows. The sloping sides are a fortifying 
element. They are incorporated in the construction 
of the wall elevation to reinforce the sturdiness and 
resistance of the structure. Architecturally, the shape and 
size of the construction materials may vary, but the 
objective remains the same - to provide the murabba'ab 
with elements of defence to ward off an enemy attempting 
to approach its entrances and openings. 

Niches and alcoves 

Niches and alcoves are found distributed in the 
inner wall elevations of the murabba'ab - whether 
it is of one or several storeys. Their size and dimensions 
vary. They had a service function for the occupants of the 
murabba'ab (the guests and guards). But they also have an 
architectural advantage in that they help strengthen the 
walls. These recesses are of two types: either a vaulted 
alcove, or square or rectangular of various sizes. The uses 
of these various alcoves and niches within the murabba'ab 
may be summarized as follows. Firstly, they were used as 
service recesses for storing the guards' personal effects, 
as a shelf on which to place a lamp, or as an area for 
storage of defence equipment, foodstuffs or clothes. 
Secondly, they have architectural and construction 
purposes. These include the fact that the vaulted niches 
render the walls more sturdy, that the use of wood in the 
roofing of the niches also reinforces the walls and on a 
basic economic level, the greater the number of alcoves 



and niches in the design the fewer building materials 
used. Finally the provision of niches and alcoves means 
that the load of the structure lessens. 

Vaulted niches 

Vaulted niches are found in the inner walls of the 
murabba'ah, sometimes on both the ground floor and the 
first storey, but sometimes only on the ground floor. 
Their size may differ from one murabba 'ah to another 
(in length, width and depth). The location of the niche 
in the wall may differ with respect to floor level. Some 
niches are closer to the floor, some 50 centimetres above 
it. However they would be located higher on the first 
storey, 120-150 centimetres from the floor. Most niches 
and alcoves are close to the floor on the ground floor. 
They are convenient recesses for the occupants to use 
however they wish. Sometimes this type of niche is found 
in a corner of the murabba' ah. It was used as a fireplace 
with the opening going through the wall to provide an 
exit for the smoke. A chimney would sometimes be built, 
extending above the roof. 

When making the niches, the first thing to do was 
determine their width and depth during the construction 
of the wall. The height was then determined and the 
niche was made square or rectangular depending on 
what was required. An arch was then mounted spanning 
the top of the recess. It was usually slightly tapered or 
curved. The form of the arch was designed in advance 
and built with the same materials used for constructing 
the rest of the murabba'ah. After fixing and building the 
arch over the top of the niche, construction continued 
behind the arch to build the vault. The niche with its 
arched top was completed with the construction of the 
sides. The exterior wall of the niche (the back) is often 
thick, ranging from 1 5-20 centimetres, in anticipation of 
defence needs. 

The arch of the niche may come in different shapes. 
It can be semi-circular, with the radius greater than 
half the width of the recess. The curved arches usually 
have three lobes. Regardless of the shape of the arch, 
the construction of the niche in the above described 
methods requires a wooden mould to control the shape, 
dimensions and size. On completion of the niche the 

wooden mould was removed and the surface of the vault 
was daubed with the construction material. Work on the 
side walls of the murabba'ah was then resumed. Finishing 
off the niche was done along with the rest of the 
murabba' ah walls. It was plastered or painted with the 
same materials used for the walls. 

The niches are distributed in the wall elevations 
which have no openings - neither doors nor windows, 
loopholes nor machicolations. They are often symmet- 
rically placed, and their number depends on what 
other architectural features there are in the walls of the 
murabba 1 ah. For example, if there are windows then the 
niches are distributed between them. 

The lobed arches of some niches serve an archi- 
tectural purpose. They give structure to the wall as 
well as being aesthetically pleasing, and are constructed 
in the same method described above, using the wooden 
mould to cast the required shape of the arch. Niches may 
sometimes be found with an oyster-like recess. They 
are called oyster-niches, but do not differ from other 
niches in purpose or function, nor in the method of their 
construction. The niches are divided according to their 
depth, arch and vault into two types: those with a single 
semi-circular tapered arch, a lobed arch, or an arch with 
a pointed top; or those with an arch at the top and a deep 
vault formed in keeping with the shape of the arch at the 
front of the niche. 

Square or rectangular recesses or alcoves 

There are square or rectangular recesses in the interior 
walls of the murabba'ah of various dimensions and 
that are located at different heights from the floor. 
These recesses may be found on the ground floor of 
the murabba' ah. Their number varies according to the 
prevailing conditions of the murabba'ah's location, and 
whether the murabba' ah is integrated into structures such 
as a hum, palace or house within the town or qasabah, or 
a separate secluded structure integrated into a fort for 
defence purposes. 

Alcoves, big or small, are of two shapes: square and 
rectangular. The purpose of these alcoves is similar to 
that of niches previously described - being functional 
and structural, but they differ in dimension and method 



of construction. Square recesses are often found in 
single-storeyed murabba'at (the rab'ah or guest house). 
They are usually quite small (80 x 80 centimetres) and 
their depth could vary depending on the thickness of the 
murabba'ah's walls. Rectangular recesses could reach the 
floor and their location varies. They function according 
to the needs of the occupants, and are especially made 
use of to store long weapons. 

Whatever their size, the location, width and depth 
of the square or rectangular recesses are determined 
during the process of building the interior wall elevations 
at the completion of each horizontal course. Once 
construction has reached the height required to build the 
recess it is then roofed or covered with any available 
wood imurabba' wood, shandal stalks, palm fronds or local 
tree wood). The wood is treated and topped with cane, 
palm stalks and branches. Layers of binding material 
would then be spread and levelled before resuming the 
horizontal construction of the wall, which continues 
until the height required for the ceiling is reached. 

The battlements (crenellations) 

he battlements at the top of the murabba'ab are of 
different types and shapes. They surround the top of 
the murabba'ab on all sides. The walls of the murabba'ab 
are built tapering inwards and therefore wider at the base 
than at the top. Upon completing the construction of the 
murabba'ab, with the features of each floor defined and 
the roof finished, construction of the upper parapet and 
battlements is begun. 

Construction of the battlements is similar to the 
construction of ramparts surrounding courtyards or 
the grounds of buildings. It differs in that the parapet 
includes defence elements such as loopholes of various 
types and crenellations in various forms which have both 
aesthetic and defence functions. The crenellations in 
the upper parapet are different in shape and size. The 
parapet may be called a crenellated parapet or even a 
toothed parapet (like the teeth of a comb). 1 The parapets 
provide safety for the defenders as they stand watch, 
screened by the crenellations. 

In constructing the crenellated parapet or battle- 
ments on all four sides of the murabba'ab, spaces are 

provided for the supports of the watch room or shelter 
and also for the supports of the parapet's corners which 
are usually extremely large. The battlements are of three 
types: battlements with a canopy, battlements with a 
corner guard room {zawiyyah) and plain battlements. 

Battlements with a canopy (zallah) 

These roofs of the murabba'ab are integrated into the 
parapet or the battlements, and have an elevated structure 
raised on square or other shaped supports. These supports 
differ in number but the canopy is often raised on four 
supports and located in a corner by the parapet. The 
canopy is an architectural feature with a special function. 
It served the defenders of the murabba'ab and provided 
them with protection against the heat of the sun in 
daytime and against rain in winter. Its height was 
adequate enough to enable the occupants to move freely 
and survey the grounds through the loopholes or the 
opening between the roof and parapet. Its height may 
range from 1.8-2 metres, and the roof was either fixed 
and similar to the roof of the murabba'ab or was light and 
dismountable and made of wood, palm fronds (du'un) 
and matting as a protection from the summer heat. In 
some murabba'at, the supports are in the corner or the 
middle of the wall to help mount the canopy structure 
temporarily and remove it when it is no longer needed. 

Battlements with a corner room 

A small room was sometimes built in a corner of 
the murabba'ab^ roof and included the most important 
defence elements such as loopholes of various types. 
With such elements the room could also be used as a 
surveillance post since it commanded the area around 
the murabba'ab. It could be located in a spot where it 
could command the roads leading to the town or other 
important nearby locations. When built in a corner, this 
room, combined with the crenellations, may have been a 
very helpful defence element for both the murabba 'ah 
and the surrounding area. 

Among the well-known examples of this feature is 
the structure of Al Maqta' fort, whose location was parallel 
to the Al Maqta' tower in Abu Dhabi. Its architecture 
and design can be described as follows. The side walls 


were integrated into the roof's parapet. The lower part 
was square in shape, with vertical loopholes distributed 
in the two elevations overlooking the exterior. In the 
corner where these two elevations of the battlements 
are aligned, there was an excellent defence feature. 
A slanting bevelled vertical loophole provides a com- 
manding view over the area. It is of a remarkable design 
for a defence-oriented structure, demonstrating the 
degree of skill, knowledge and precision in constructing 
buildings with defence elements, that left no gap open 
for the enemy to exploit. This room is entered from 
inside the murabba'aVs roof and its entrance is usually 
narrow for defence purposes. 

The second (upper) part of the structure is a watch 
room, also square in shape and smaller than the lower 
part. Circular loopholes distributed in the walls were in a 
triangle formation. It is an element of defence which allows 
the guards to make out the number of an approaching 
party and to determine their targets, near and far. 

The third part of the watch room structure is a dome, 
semi-circular in section. The corners of the square base 
take an octagonal-shaped drum to enable construction of 
the a dome. 4 Semi-circular domes constructed as a cover 
for watch rooms can also be found in other fortresses, 
husun and khans (caravansaries). A high pole is mounted 
on top of the dome as a guiding landmark. The height of 
the watch room is the sum total of the height of the 
battlements from the roof of the murabba'ah (1.2 metres), 
the height of the first level (approximately 1 metre), the 
height of the second level (80 centimetres) and that of 
the dome (60 centimetres) - i.e. 3.5-3.6 metres. 

The watch room was another fortifying element 
of the defences of the structure, complementing the 
battlements commanding the grounds from all sides. It 
also accommodated the defenders and gave them an edge 
over the enemy. 

Battlements with no crenellations 

This third type has no crenellations, but included 
other defence elements such as the vertical and circular 
loopholes and a watch room in one corner of the roof. 
Murabba'at in different locations have differing levels of 
defence. These could have been dictated by particular 

needs, the degree of stability prevailing in the area and 
the fortifications required. 

Stakes and furniture 

mong the elements noted in the structure of 
the murabba'ah are the wooden stakes inserted 
into the walls from the interior during the process of 
construction which protrude at a height of 1.2-1.5 
metres to a length of 60-80 centimetres. These are used 
by the guards to hang their weapons, clothes and even 
food, usually dates, with which they were supplied as an 
emergency foodstuff. Short hooks of different shapes are 
fixed to these protruding stakes. They are found on the 
murabba'ah^ ground floor and first storey, distributed 
among the niches at the same level. 

In one corner of the murabba'ah, there is a square 
platform borne by wooden columns, 60-80 centimetres 
high, with wooden planks laid over the top. This platform 
was used to accommodate sleeping mattresses, and the 
space below was used to store simple cooking utensils or 
foodstuffs. This feature is found in the separate secluded 
murabba'at and some forts. Sometimes, a fireplace was 
built into one of the smaller sides of the murabba'ah, 
or in one of its corners. It is usually quite small, but 
proportional to the spaciousness of the murabba'ah, 
and served the immediate needs of the guards, such as 
preparing coffee or heating in cold weather. Fireplaces 
were also placed in the centre of the murabba'ah, especially 
on the ground floor. The murabba'ah may include other 
functional elements to serve the guests or guards. These 
could take the form of recesses or cavities in the walls 
in which to place a pitcher of water or liquid supplies 
such as molasses or ghee, and are usually found on the 
ground floor. 

The furniture of the murabba'ah differs from 
one place to another, depending on the area where 
the murabba'ah is located. The murabba'ah, whether a 
rab'ah, majlis or madlf, was provided with mattresses for 
the occupants to sit on the floor cross-legged. Cushions 
were placed on these mattresses to lean back against and 
rest on for increased comfort. The floor was covered 
with mats made of reeds or a plaitwork of palm leaves, or 
with locally made rugs or imported carpets, depending 



on the means of the occupants or owner of the 
murabba'ah. In one corner of the murabba'ah the rolled- 
up simat, a long mat, or a round mansafwere stored and 
spread out at meal times or on special occasions, such as 
when guests were to be received or a local meeting was 
to be held. 

Whether the murabba'ah is used as a guest house 
and is located far from a town or populated areas, or if it 
is part of a military building such as a fort or a castle, or 
is a separate secluded structure, the furniture was usually 
simple and served the needs of the guards. 

A stall to tie up horses or an area to house animals 
was located at a small distance from the murabba'ah. This 
barrahah, as it is sometimes called, is protected from the 
direction of the wind blowing towards the murabba'ah. If 
the murabba'ah is connected to buildings such as a fort, 
hum or palace, then the service areas are found within the 
living quarters. The murabba'ah assumes a distinguished 
status on special occasions such as religious feasts, the 
fasting month of Ramadan, wedding celebrations and the 
arrival of guests from faraway places. Additional pieces of 
furniture were brought out, the grounds were swept 
clean, tribal flags were raised and a fire was lit outside to 
indicate that ample amounts of food and coffee were 
available. Candles or lamps were lit inside and outside 
the murabba'ah and at the entrance. Palm branches were 
used to decorate the murabba'aFs doors and windows. 

The dakkah (seat) 

The dakkah was an architectural feature integral to 
the design of murabba'at, reception halls, majalis 
and guest rooms {madayif). The outdoor dakkah extends 
along the walls on the exterior, and could be on one or 
two elevations of the murabba'ah, but was often on the 
front wall where the entrance is located. It is constructed 
with the same building materials as the murabba'ah. 
When constructed the dakkah is built up from the 
foundations of the walls, adding to their sturdiness and 
resistance to attacks and to natural effects such as the 
erosion of foundations and walls. 

The dimensions of the dakkah vary. It is usually 
around 80 centimetres in width and 60 centimetres 
in height and the length depends on the length of the 

wall, or is determined according to need. If the 
murabba 'ah is located in a village, town or qasabah and 
incorporated within the hum or palace, this architectural 
element was essential, and care and precision of its 
form and dimensions was manifest. But if the murabba'ah 
is a separate secluded structure or was within a fort 
designated for guards, then the dakkah was less elaborate 
and more simple. 

The creation of a prop to lean against at the end of 
the bench could sometimes be taken as an indication of 
stability prevailing in the area where the murabba'ah is 
located. Used for sitting or relaxing and watching the 
world go by during the day the guards would also use it 
to sleep or rest upon. Mats or rugs were spread out on it, 
and it was covered more elaborately on special occasions. 

Buttresses were built around the base to reinforce 
the walls and render them more resistant to enemies 
attempting to destroy the murabba'ah. Separate square 
supports were sometimes employed, similar to pilasters, 
to consolidate the foundations and wall elevations. 
Surrounding the structure of the murabba'ah like an 
attached slanting wall, the buttress height ranged from 
1.2-1.5 metres. The construction materials used were 
the same as for the murabba'ah walls. 

Painting and flooring 

The method of covering the wall elevations from the 
inside and the outside with binding materials such 
as gypsum (or clay) was by coating, padding, painting or 
plastering. The murabba'aFs wall elevations are coated 
after articulating the sides of the openings of the doors, 
windows, machicolation and other defence elements 
such as the vertical, horizontal and circular loopholes 
and crenellations. The same binding material is used 
everywhere. But the plastering process is often lacking 
in consistency - a thicker layer would be applied on 
one of the sides, especially in the case of the defence 
outpost murabba'ah, and more than one layer of plaster 
could sometimes be applied on the inside of the walls, 
particularly to even or smooth over the surfaces in the 
more distinguished reception halls {majalis and madayif). 
Coating strengthens the walls as it fills up any gaps in the 
elevation, in addition to rendering them more attractive 


with carved designs and patterns. 5 The woodwork of 
doors, windows and ceilings was painted depending on 
the status of the structure. 

The flooring of the murabba'ah's ground floor and 
the first storey was done with gypsum or clay. The floors 
were sometimes tiled with solid materials such as stone 
or baked brick, or a thick layer of gypsum. Rugs and 
carpets were laid over the floor. Plastering with gypsum 
allowed for simple ornamentation in certain sections of 
the murabba'' ah - in the majlis or reception hall and the 

guest areas. But this occurs only in murabba 'at built within 
fortresses and palaces, towns or qasabahs, which have a 
social function in addition to being defence structures. 
Patterns were also found on the wooden frames of doors 
and windows. Windows on the first storey, overlooking 
the area outside the murabba'ah, were adorned with iron 
latticework in different designs. In the absence of this the 
window woodwork was made in carved ornamental 

Construction materials 

The murabba 'ah is built with the materials available 
in the area. The use of these materials and the 
method of construction are determined by the process of 

The better- known materials used to build murabba'at 
in the Gulf region were coral-reef stones, used especially 
in areas that were either coastal or distant from mountains. 
For want of rocks the inhabitants exploited the coral 
reefs. Coral rocks were dried first before use in con- 
struction. Gypsum was the binding material, extracted 
from burning coral stones and mixing the product with 
sand. A quantity of hardened 'sarttj was also obtained 
from the burnt clay used in the process. 1 Imported wood 
was used for the doors and windows, and for the ceilings, 

known as shandal wood. Clay brick and mud were also 
available and easily accessible materials. They could be 
extracted from the construction site itself if the soil 
happened to be the right kind - as in the site of 
murabba'ah al Dayd and hum in Sharjah, the Hatta 
buildings in Dubai, and the Murabba'at al Qasldat in Ra's 
al Khaymah. Palm-leafstalks were sewn over the shandal 
wood while building the ceilings and roofs and plaitwork 
of palm leaves for mats woven locally were used for floors 
and ceilings. 

Other imported materials used were mountain 
stones, baked bricks, sun-baked mud brick, mud and 
cane. A mixture of these were also used in construction 



The purposes and uses of the murabba'ah 

he murabba 'ah as an architectural element distinct 
in planning and details, and peculiar in size and 
form, was built for particular functions in two types. 

The secluded murabba'ah 

This type of murabba'ah was a tall structure with 
distinctive features that could be seen from far away, 
especially in desert areas where it would not be concealed 
by trees or hills. The secluded murabba'ah was originally 
built on the outskirts of cities and towns. It was also built 
in the midst of residential units as a separate structure, 
not connected to any building. 

The incorporated or connected 

This second type of murabba'ah was built adjoined to 
living or service units, with its sides visible depending 
on its location in the building plan of the whole structure. 
It may have been located on the first floor, above the 
entrance, in the corner or in the middle. Its location with- 
in the structure, along with its design and architectural 
elements, enhanced the defence and protection, especially 
when the structures are fortresses in remote or desert 
areas, or when they are palaces of rulers or officials, 
located in densely populated areas in the towns. The 
murabba'ah had a social function as a majlis, reception 
hall, or a meeting place for men who reside close by. 

The most important functions of the murabba 'ah 
are as follows. 

A watch post 

The murabba'ah with its commanding view served to give 
advance warning of the arrival into the area of individuals 
or groups. Occupants could identify the newcomers, the 
intentions of an approaching crowd and any movements 
in the vicinity of the murabba'ah. Its position and height 
assisted travellers in determining the location of the town, 
and the coastal murabba'ah functioned as a lighthouse for 
incoming ships. 

The murabba'ah was essentially designed for viewing 
the vicinity and for the surveillance of the surrounding 
area, whether as a separate secluded structure or an 
observation post for guards incorporated into a residential 

A defence unit 

The murabba'ah as a defence structure in design and 
form facilitated the function of defending the surrounding 
area. The elevated two-storey structure, with battlements 
or crenellated parapets and loopholes, the absence 
of windows and other openings on the ground floor, 
were all elements that strengthened the position of the 
defenders within. 

The door of the murabba'ah was closed at night 
and the guards would climb to the roof for watch duty 
and others took position by the windows and other 

A meeting place 

The structure of the murabba'ah and its location 
occasionally encouraged its use as a meeting place for the 
men-folk, often at night time, or for feasts and religious 
occasions - such as the evenings during the holy month 
of Ramadan. At such gatherings stories would be told, 
heroic episodes recounted and cultural topics as well as 
communal problems would be discussed. Businessmen 
and merchants met there to conclude deals. Celebrations 
such as weddings and banquets in honour of guests were 
held there. 

A murabba'ah of this type can be seen on the first 
floor of al Muraykhl House (or the Pearl Centre) on 
Dalma island, 1 adorned with several windows and two 
entrances. The commanding position it occupies on the 
island near the shore allows it to function as a guide for 
incoming ships, and so is indicative of its defence function 
as well. But since being on an island is a protection 
in itself, the architectural design did not provide for 
loopholes and other defence elements. Instead, there 


are numerous windows on all four sides, for better 
surveillance and observation of the movements around 
the structure. 

This particular murabba'ah is informative. It 
confirms that the design of a murabba l ah or a majlis need 
not necessarily include all the characteristic defence 
elements, since an architectural design providing for 
these elements would depend on factors particular to 
the location in which it was built; the above example is 
particularly pertinent to areas characterized at the time 
by social, economic and political stability. 

Repository for weapons and 
other valuables 

The structure of the murabba' ah and its location allow for 
its use as a safe storage place for valuable and important 
commodities, especially weapons and other defence 
equipment. It may also serve as a storehouse for food- 
stuffs in anticipation of hard times or a state of siege. 

A separate murabba' ah structure located on the 
outskirts of a town or qasabah, or on the coast, would 
often be used as a weapons repository or a storage facility 
for foodstuffs that could be stored for a long time, such 
as dates and grains. However, a murabba'ah incorporated 
into a palace or a hum was used as lodgings for the 
defenders as well as a storehouse on the ground floor. 

The murabba'ah could be made use of to detain 
or jail people temporarily or otherwise, depending on 
the circumstances prevailing in the area - especially 
when it was located near the seat of authority (i.e. the 
Shaykhdoms); evidence of this can often be seen in the 
railing of the prison cell to which the prisoner's feet 
would have been manacled. This anachronistic device 
consisted of a long grooved wooden pole into which the 
prisoner's foot was fitted and then held in place by a long 
iron bar which was made to pass through the grooves the 
whole length of the pole, and then padlocked and laid on 
the floor. 



The murabba'ah in Sharjah 

here are a number of heritage buildings in Sharjah 
that incorporate in their architectural design 
functional units such as the murabba'ah, a distinct 
architectural element in structures such as fortresses and 
palaces, and in a number of village or town houses. A 
type of murabba'ah is also found in defensive forts. These 
murabba 'at were built as places to receive guests and to 
hold meetings, in addition to its general function as part 
of a defence structure. 1 

Murabba'at in these heritage buildings in Sharjah 
still stand with discernible details. But several of them 
show the effects of erosion and neglect, having been 
abandoned by their owners who have long since moved 
into modern buildings in other areas. Ignorance, neglect 
and misuse took their toll on these structures. The 

architectural and aesthetic elements of the murabba 'at 
have been defaced, their artistic features distorted with 
the introduction of new construction materials and the 
closure of entrances or the addition of new ones to suit 
the new altered usage of the buildings. As a result some 
of these murabba'at were divided into residential units, 
their openings closed and new staircases added. Ceilings 
were also raised and most windows and doors ripped off. 
Since elements of all the murabba'at are similar, 
to avoid repetition we shall take one murabba'ah as an 
example and explain its architectural and artistic elements. 
This shall be Murabba'ah Sa'ld al Shamsl (al Tawll) in 
Sharjah, since it is still standing and incorporates most of 
the common elements to all. We shall also explain the 
methods employed in the restoration work. 



Building condition 

Primary materials 


Murabba'ah Al Shuyuk 

Al Murayjah 

Possibly sea rock, gypsum rock, palm 
frond mats, palm stalks and shandal wood 

Opposite to the castle of the 
Qawasim tribe in Sharjah 

Murabba'ah Ibn Kamil 

Al Murayjah 


Possibly sea rock, gypsum rock, palm 
frond mats, palm stalks and shandal wood 

Opposite to the castle of the 
Qawasim tribe in Sharjah 

Murabba'ah Taryam 

Al Murayjah 


Possibly sea rock, gypsum rock, palm 
frond mats, palm stalks and shandal wood 

Opposite to the castle of the 
Qawasim tribe in Sharjah 

Murabba'ah Ibn Darwish 

Al Murayjah 


Possibly sea rock, gypsum, palm frond 
mats, palm stalks and shandal wood 

Opposite to the castle of the 
Qawasim tribe in Sharjah 

Murabba'ah Al Sharjah 

Al Murayjah 


Possibly sea rock, gypsum, palm frond 
mats, palm stalks and shandal wood 

Only a tower still stands 

Murabba'ah Al Shamsl 
(Said a I Tawll) 

Al Murayjah 


Possibly sea rock, gypsum, palm frond 
mats, palm stalks and shandal wood 

Restoration under supervision 

Murabba'ah Al Shamsl 
(Said al Tawll) 

Al Murayjah 

Obliterated foundations 

Possibly sea rock, gypsum rock, palm 
frond mats, palm stalks and shandal wood 

Of medium size; will be rebuilt 
after excavation 

Murabba'ah Al Shamsl 
(Said al Tawll) 

Al Murayjah 

Obliterated foundations 

Sea rocks, gypsum, shandal wood, palm 
frond mats and palm stalks 

Small; will be rebuilt after 

Murabba'ah Al Qasabah 

Al Murayjah 


Red stones, sea rocks, gypsum, palm 
frond mats, palm stalks and shandal wood 

Being restored under our 
supervision 2 

Murabba'ah (?) 

Al Murayjah - 


Red stones, sea rocks, gypsum palm 
frond mats, palm stalks and shandal wood 

Needs excavation to find its 
location 3 


Murabba'ah (?) 

Al Murayjah - 


Red stone, sea rocks, palm frond mats, 
gypsum, shandal wood and palm stalks 

Require excavation to determine 

Murabba'ah al Layyah, 
owned by Sayyid Majran 
bin Ahmad 

Al Layyah - 


Probably red stones, sea rock, gypsum, 
palm frond mats, palm stalks and shandal 

Needs excavation to determine 
its location 

Murabba'ah 'Ali Bin 

Al-Khan - 


Sea rocks, gypsum, palm frond mats, palm 
stalks and shandal wood 

Restored in part 

Murabba'ah 'Isa 
Bin Jarash 

Al-Khan - 


Sea rocks, gypsum, palm frond mats, 
palm stalks and shandal wood 

Needs a plan for future 

Murabba'ah Husn 
al Hamriyyah 

Al Hamriyyah 


Sea rocks, gypsum, palm frond mats, palm 
stalks and shandal wood 

Was possibly built with the 
primary materials available 

Murabba'ah Husn Diba 

Diba al Husn 

Only foundations remain 

Sea rocks, gypsum, palm frond mats, palm 
stalks and shandal wood 

Extreme damage perpetrated 
here. A new square was built 
within a local police station 4 

Murabba'ah Husn al Dhayd 
(Husn al Sharl'ah) 

Al Dhayd 

In ruins 

Clay brick, mud, gypsum plastering and 
mountain stones for the foundations 

Needs protection and restoration 5 

Murabba'ah Husn al Dhayd 
(Qal'at Tawi al 'Arqub) 

Al Dhayd 

In ruins 

Clay brick, mud, gypsum plastering and 
mountain stones for the foundations 

Needs protection and restoration 

Murabba'ah Husn 
al Bahayis 

Al Bahayis 

In ruins 

Mountain stone and gravel 

Needs excavation and 

Murabba'ah Husn 
al Madam 

Al Madam 

Wall foundations only 

Mountain stone and gravel 

Needs excavation and 

Murabba'ah Husn Flly 
(a fort) 

North of Wadi 
al Madam 

Wall foundations only 

Mountain stone and gravel 

Needs excavation 

Murabba'ah Qal'at al 
Wathan (two murabba'at) 

Khawr Fakkan 

Foundations obliterated 

Mountain stone and gravel 

Damage due to urban 

Murabba'ah Husn Kalba' 


Foundations and wall 

Mountain stone, sea rock, gypsum, palm 
stalks and shandal wood 

Restoration under our 

Murabba'ah Bayt al 
Shaykh Sa'ld al Qasiml 



Mountain stone, sea rock, shandal wood, 
gypsum, palm stalks and palm leaf mats 

Restoration under our 

Murabba'ah Husn 
Khawr Kalba' 



Sea rock, gypsum, palm leaf mats, palm 
stalks and shandal wood 

The foundations would probably 
appear during the excavation of 
the fortress area 

The murabba'ah of 
SaTd al ShamsT (al TawTI) 

This murabba'ah is part of a large house in the area of 
Murayjah. During excavations two murabba'at, one 
large and one small, were found on the western side of 
the house. 

The house is located in the old part of Sharjah, the 
city's bustling social, economic and military centre. This 
part of the city accommodates the suq (al 'Arsah), the 

school, the palace of the Qawasim Shaykhs and most 
residences of the Emirate's notables such as alMudafa'a, 
Bayt al Nabudah, Jum'ah al Mutawa', al-Numan, al Mary 
and Bayt al Arabl (al Muqassabah), their residences 
structurally homogeneous in their architectural elements 
and the construction materials used. 

As a structure, the murabba'ah of Sa'ld al Shamsl 
(and those in other notable houses in the areas of al 
Shahwiyyin and al Murayjah in Sharjah) is typical of the 



architecture of the heritage buildings in the city of 
Sharjah and the United Arab Emirates. 

The still visible part of this murabba'ah consisting of 
a few partition walls and foundations of the walls does 
not represent the entire structure which was originally 
larger. Once the site was cleaned, the encroachments 
were removed with the modifications, and the area 
excavated, after partially diverting Salahiddin Street 
which had traversed the western part of the house. The 
removed section represented a medium-sized, 50 square 
metres murabba'ah, and a smaller one of 20 square metres, 
with rooms in between and a staircase, in addition to a 
northern entrance and the main entrance located on the 
southern side adjacent to the existing western side of the 

The murabba'ah is located on the south-eastern side 
and is 5 metres from the eastern corner of the house. It is 
a rectangular murabba'ah of 50 square metres, comprising 
two storeys with an entrance (2.10 x 1.10 metres) at 
the northern side, leading from the ground floor to the 
iwan (the liwan) - a roofed gallery supported by five 
square pillars (80 x 80 centimetres), the foundations of 
which were discovered during the excavations, along 
with parts of the staircase at the eastern side of the iwan. 

The entrance of the murabba 'ah on the first storey 
leads to the roof of the iwan. The first storey is reached 
by a staircase from the exterior and through the iwan; 
this staircase leads to the upper roof of the murabba'ah, 
and is incorporated into its northern and eastern walls. 

Windows are located on the northern, eastern 
and western walls of the ground floor, and on all the 
first floor walls - a total of 19 windows. The windows, 
60 x 90 centimetres each, are of iron grille encased in 
wooden frames, ornamented with traditional designs in 
geometrical and floral leaf patterns. 

The distribution of windows on the 
four walls of the murabba'ah 

Ground floor 

First floor 


Northern wall 



60 x 90 cm 

Southern wall 



60 x 90 cm 

Eastern wall 



60 x 90 cm 

Western wall 



60 x 90 cm 




The windows and the embrasures were for 
ventilation and for allowing in daylight. They were 
also for the surveillance of the grounds around the 
murabba'ah. The existence of embrasures in the upper 
storey, and the absence of windows in the southern wall 
on the ground floor, point to the defensive nature of the 
structure as they reinforce its security against potential 

There are two staircases in the murabba'ah: the first 
is the exterior staircase at the north-eastern corner, 
which is incorporated into part of the wall elevation and 
leads to the roof of the iwan. Excavations during the year 
1993-94 uncovered other foundations of living quarters 
in the house. Among these were the aforementioned 
remains of the foundations of square supports raising the 
iwan at the northern forefront of the murabba'ah, and 
also the remains of foundations, partitions and the steps 
of the exterior staircase. 

The second staircase is located at the north-eastern 
corner of the murabba 'ah and is built of shandal wood 
inserted into both side walls of the murabba'ah near to 
the corner, simulating the hypotenuse of a triangle with 
the walls as the sides of this triangle. There are six steps in 
all; the distance between them is 50 centimetres. During 
restoration the rotted woodwork was replaced. At the 
corner base of the staircase, there is a raised square 
platform (dakkah) measuring 50 x 50 centimetres, and 30 
centimetres in height. 

The staircase leads out to the roof of the first 
floor through an opening (70 x 70 centimetres). This was 
for the guards to climb through for watch duty on the 
parapet and the crenellated battlements. 


Ground-floor plan of Murabba'ah 
Sa'ld al Shamsi 

A shandal wood plank, smaller in size than the 
planks used for the staircase, is fixed into the murabba'ah^ 
upper parapet for holding on to while climbing up to the 
roof and to grasp when reaching for the first step of the 
staircase when climbing down. 

There are many niches in the murabba'ah, distributed 
in the walls of the ground floor and the first storey as 

The distribution of the niches in the interior walls 

The distribution of the embrasures in the walls 
of the murabba'ah 



Northern wall 


30x40 cm 

Southern wall 



Eastern wall 



Western wall 





Ground floor 


First floor 


Northern wall 


64 x 70 cm 


55 x 58 cm 

Southern wall 


64 x 70 cm 


55x58 cm 

Eastern Wall 


64 x 70 cm 


55 x 58 cm 

Western wall 


64 x 70 cm 


55 x 58 cm 



64 x 70 cm 


In addition many small openings exist on the first 
floor for ventilation and to allow in daylight when the 
windows are closed. They can also be used to watch 
the immediate area surrounding the murabba'ah and are 
distributed as follows. 

The embrasures were made when the wall was 
being constructed. A small opening was left in the wall 
and topped with a wooden lintel. The building of the 
wall was then continued up to the roof and the mounting 
of the shandal wood. 

In restoring the embrasures, the horizontal level 
around the walls of the murabba'ah is adjusted in one line. 
The rotted wooden lintels were replaced with new 
woodwork treated against woodworm and other pests 
such as white ants. More often than not, the method 
of injecting lime is used wherever cavities appear within 
the embrasures. The liquid gypsum seeps inside to 




First-floor plan 

strengthen the wall and fill up the cavities. A bonding 
method known as 'tying' or 'sewing' is also used to treat 
cracks which appear at the top of the wall between the 
openings, and to strengthen the upper parts of the walls 
to support the load of the first-floor roof. 

During the process of plastering the four walls with 
gypsum, irregularities and imprecisions were noted in 
the vertical level of the surface of the front elevation. 
This was resolved by cladding with small stones. After 
leveling out the walls they were coated, padded and 
plastered with a crude layer of gypsum applied by hand. 

Amurabba'ah often includes circular loopholes, as 
found in the murabba'ah of al Shamsl. Rectangular open- 
ings may also be seen in the upper (crenellated) parapet, 
but these form partitions between the crenellations 
rather than the vertical arrow slits. 

The distribution of circular loopholes in the walls 
of the first floor of the murabba'ah 



Northern wall 



Southern wall 


5 cm diameter from the interior 

Eastern wall 


and 8 cm from the exterior 

Western wall 




Restoration of the circular loopholes required 
attention to the sides and using the same methods 
mentioned above (bonding, injecting and plastering), 
depending on the condition of each loophole. Gauging 
the inclination and retaining the slanting level required 
an amount of precision in order to preserve the wide 


range of vision that the openings provided. Thus the 
diameter of the wall opening is narrow and becomes 
wider towards the exterior, while the degree of inclination 
allowed for commanding a view of the approaches to the 

The ceiling and roof of the murabba'aFs ground 
floor and first storey were repaired by first identifying 
the damaged and disintegrated woodwork. Repair work 
required the removal of layers of stone and earth and 
one wooden joist from each side, after adjusting the 
horizontal level required for mounting the joists. The 
removed wood was examined, and the joists which were 
in good condition were cleaned, treated and re-mounted. 
Those which were damaged were replaced with new 
shandal. Placing the woven palm fronds followed, then 
the plaited palm-leaf mats were spread out and coated 
with a layer of gypsum. Small stones were then laid on 
top, to be covered by a final layer of gypsum. 

The same method was used to repair the ceiling and 
roof of the murabba'ah's first storey. Due consideration 
was given to the inclination necessary to allow for rain 
water drainage from the upper roof of the murabba'ah. 
Openings were provided in the upper parapet for drainage 

The upper crenellations of the murabba'ah's parapet 
were dilapidated, so similar crenellations of still standing 
parapets elsewhere were examined to carry out repairs 
correctly. The crenellated parapet was then repaired and 
restored, the top part of the battlements being triangular 
with rectangular openings in between (as opposed to the 
aforementioned vertical loopholes), with a wide range 
of vision commanding a view of the grounds of the 

On the ground floor of the murabba'ah there were 
holes and the remains of partitions. It required the 
removal of new additions to uncover the original floor 
slab. This was aligned with the level of the entrance 
threshold and the outer izvan floor, before levelling the 
rest of the floor, laying out the gravel and a layer of the 
sarujjuss as a waterproofing measure. 

Restoration of the floor on the first storey and the 
upper roof of the murabba'ah was carried out with the 
same materials used in the rest of the building and roofing. 

Following the completion of restoration and main- 
tenance of Murabba'ah al Shamsl or Sa'ld al Tawll 
additional woodwork was used to embellish its features 
- the carved doors, frames, windows and steps of the 
interior staircase. 

Power lines for lighting and air-conditioning were 
introduced to bring its function up to 'modern' standards. 


Conservation and reconstruction 
Salma Samar Damluji 

Reconstruction of the 
architectural heritage 


The ongoing reconstruction work undertaken on the 
conservation of the traditional architecture of 
Sharjah have introduced a major overhaul to the urban 
fabric. The work proves more interesting when viewed 
not as a conservation activity perse, but as an endeavour to 
reinstate the vernacular architectural styles and revive the 
local building techniques in rebuilding the old quarters. In 
a sense, the general course of the development process has 
witnessed a reversal: when modern structures, built in the 
last two decades, are pulled down and demolished in 
favour of restoring the original vernacular buildings and 
the remnants of a disintegrating urban fabric. 

Reconstruction, as an historical conservation activity, 
has precedent in the region. Much of Iraq's architectural 
heritage has been rebuilt, with considerable licence 
used in introducing new interpretations to the structures' 
decorative features and elements. Whereas some early 
attempts respected the architectural integrity of the 
buildings, for example al Khulafa' mosque in Baghdad by 
Makiya, there have also been exaggerated anachronisms, 
for example the zealous reconstruction of Babylon. 
There is also precedent for demolishing old traditional 
structures, mosques, forts and suqs, and constructing the 

'architectural heritage' anew: the Sultanate of Oman 
has had an established practice since the Nazwa suq and 
mosque: both were pulled down and reconstructed in a 
contrived traditional 'style' on the original sites without 
conforming to the original design or building materials. 
There is little precedent in modern town planning, 
however, for a third generation urban fabric to be 
reconstructed, replacing a second - the by-product of an 
International Style modern development - in a period of 
less than three decades. A sense of remorse over the 
obliteration of the earlier fabric notwithstanding, the 
removal of the relatively modern constructions was 
hardly regrettable. The task proved fascinating, especially 
when contemplating that only a decade or two may 
have passed since demolition of the same traditional 
housing. In effect the local architectural culture was being 
restored through the demolition of this construction 
which had proved devoid of identity and which the 
vernacular building was originally pulled down to make 
way for. 

The new fabric becomes a contemporary re- 
interpretation of the old in a polished and structurally 
sustainable form, recapturing the quality of the vernacular 
aesthetic, while restoring a particular local cultural 



image that was attached to the original urban fabric. 
Undoubtedly, and irrespective of academic criticism 
relating to the historic sincerity of such radical con- 
servation measures, the new vernacular has a valid 
and functional design ethos; and it is architecturally 
far more pleasing in style, and sympathetic to the 
environment, social life and the natural surroundings, 
than the 'modern' mediocrity that preceded it and 
continues to mushroom around it at the hands of 

The restoration work has been carried out by 
the Directorate of Heritage and Conservation, under the 
auspices of the Department of Culture and Information, 
the Government of Sharjah. In the quarter of al 
Shahwiyyin four houses (al Sirkal, now an art gallery, 
Bayt 'Umayr, 'Ubayd al Shamsl and Bayt al Sari, 
now the Arts Cafe) and al Dahl mosque 1 have all been 
renovated. The impression of the old quarter cluster - 
narrow shaded streets, whitewashed fagades, pedestrian 

walkways, articulated openings and elaborately carved 
wooden doors - have all been recreated. These buildings 
have been rehabilitated into a series of art galleries 
and cultural venues, well restored and finished using 
the original building materials with integrated lighting, 
air-conditioning and upgraded furnishing. The interior 
spaces are cool and privately enclosed, restoring the 
original proportioned elements of design and scale. The 
exteriors are attractive. 

At al Murayjah quarter in Harat al Shuyukh, the 
houses of Al Nabudah (the Heritage Museum), Bayt 
Sa'ld al Shamsl, known as al Tawll (housing the Islamic 
Museum), Majlis Ibrahim al Madfa', Bayt Muhammad 
bin Jasim al Madfa' and Madrasat al Islah were also 
renovated. Bayt al Shaykhah Myra was undergoing 
renovation on our visit in March 1998. Hayy al Suq, 
also called the 'Arasah Suq, in al Murayjah was also 
completely renovated and is in use by local shopkeepers. 
These buildings are all situated in the heart of a larger 


Close-up of the Arts Museum, the renovated building of Bayt al Sirkal in the al 
Shahwiyyin quarter, Sharjah 


Interior view of one of the museum's galleries 




jL, ■; — i« ,; H_^ i '-'" r. .; ['"■■■ ,' 
ESl i-A-.l-'J J^-i it IT: j~, -vJLU 
■JBt -v. :-:.i ( '- jix'-c.' '-. ; - ^ ; "? . « 

- -1 M« ! Crf;i^>"-i -''A Tir,*"- 1 





A toie m the a/ Shahwiyyin quarter where the arts and culture compound was 
built during the renovation works of 1996, Sharjah 



site where the excavation of foundations proceeds 
alongside traditional building work. In an endeavour 
to restore the original architecture of this old quarter, 
reconstruction of previously demolished housing is under 
way. Old foundations are being excavated to determine 
the layout of buildings, wall thicknesses, partition walls, 
the location of columns, arches, etc., accompanied by the 
collective memory of some of the inhabitants. These 
endeavours are encouraged and monitored by the Ruler of 
Sharjah, who takes personal interest in the reconstitution 
of this Emirate's previous architectural heritage, a topic 
which appears very high on the city planning develop- 
ment agenda in Sharjah as in Dubai. Instructions are 
frequently given by the Ruler to pull down a more recent 
building where he recalls there was a mosque or house in 
the traditional architectural style. 

The hum, at the entrance to the new city, on Burj 
Street known locally as 'Banks Boulevard', has been 
completely rebuilt. (When we first visited the city in 
1996 the site had been levelled and only a fragment of 
the tower was left.) The hum now stands as if it had always 
been there without interruption, in stunning contrast to 
the high-rise commercial buildings lining the concrete, 
aluminium and glass valley. It was reconstructed in the 
space of a year and a half, on the strength of 24-hour 


The arcade of Majlis Ibrahim al 
Madfa' (Muhammad al Madfa') 

Bottom left 

Al Murayjah quarter: the restored 
streets and shops of the old suq 

Below right 

Close-up of one of the shop fronts 
at suq al 'Arasah 


The cafe of suq al 'Arasah 

working shifts. The coral-reef stone used, originally 
supplied from Abu Musa Island according to Dr A. S. al 
'Azzawl, Iraqi archaeologist and restoration expert, 2 was 
imported from Suqatrah Island in Yemen. 

The Ruler explained that the palace formed the 
frontier of the city in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s 
the houses were constructed running parallel to the sea. 
By the 1970s the construction expanded from the previous 
0.5-kilometre stretch to 1 kilometre on the seafront, when 
the villa construction commenced. Modern buildings, he 




o o o 


Plans of the ground and first floors, renovated by HH Shaykh Dr Sultan bin 
Muhammad al Qasimi, 1995 

explained, grew sporadically, without any coherent 
planning, lacking in infrastructure and with no sewerage 
or drainage system. He commented on the construction 
of new cities in the Emirates, and particularly Abu 
Dhabi, describing it as a concrete forest, and on the 
Khalifah Committee as a form of redistributing the local 
income of citizens. 

One of the biggest problems facing the built 
environment in the Emirates is that of dampness and the 
high salt content. This has not been addressed in the 
development of specific qualities required in building 
materials for the area, reflecting on the lack of research 
by the building sector into the natural environmental 

rmml rwm? Imm? 
h I 'l ' I f 



characteristics and requirements. In summer, the inhab- 
itants of Sharjah would move from their urban dwellings 
to live in l arlsh (locally known as khiyam, 'tents'), houses 
constructed of palm fronds. 

Dr al 'Azzawl was appointed in 1 990 to implement 
the conservation and maintenance of heritage buildings 
in Sharjah, Kalba and Dalma. He is closely involved 
in the complete process, from recording the buildings 
and excavation through to the supervision of the 
building restoration. He joins the builders, stone masons 
and craftsmen on site, outside official working hours 
during the afternoons and early evenings. He began 
with six builders and trained them in vault and dome 
construction and the making and use of traditional 
materials. By 1996 he was working with twelve master 
builders. Communicating with them in their native 
Indian languages, his attachment to the project is of 
a rare quality of dedication and conviction, whether 
issuing directions for excavating the foundation trenches 
for him to assess the original structure and define the 
original floor plan, or instructing them on the details of 
the building work. 

He explained that the original working plan 
for buildings that were renovated included three basic 

Religious buildings: mosques 

Urban structures: residential; public majalis 

(plural oimajlis); suqs and shops 

Military buildings: forts, husun, abraj 

and murabba'at 1 



The buildings were located and defined in the 
overall plan of the old quarters of the cities (Kalba, 
Dalma and Sharjah) with a function allocated to each 
rehabilitated building in the urban fabric. 

The aim of the conservation work is defined in 
advance in order that a clear implementation plan can be 
drawn for the different phases. The conservation and 
repair plans involve the following process: 
i. The documentation of heritage buildings by 
gathering information from reference sources, 
archives and local accounts, relying in particular on 
the community's elders, who lived in these quarters 
and witnessed the changes in the urban fabric, 
ii. Plans, sections and elevations are prepared 

from architectural surveys prior to commencing 
any works, 
iii. Photographic documentation of buildings, 
including detailed architectural elements, 
decorative work and panels, is made in order 
to record and preserve the original features 
in each building, 
iv. Frequent visits to the building and neighbouring 
quarter are made in order to learn more about the 
site, the state of the building and type of materials 
used, and to work out the details of the design and 
v. Buildings are cleared of any rubble, additions 
and alterations to the original structure and 
design, including the closing of openings, 
doorways, new partitions, roof terraces, etc. 

Foundation trenches are often dug to determine the 
characteristics of the original building. Through this 
process, the building materials are exposed, analysed and 
assessed: the type of the stone, coral reef in this case; the 
wood, local palm-tree trunks or the imported shandal or 
jandal (African or Indian) used for beams and doors; the 
d'un, palm-tree branches; and the woven khus matting 
used for ceiling panels. 

During the demolition process the building 
materials are isolated by removing each from the 
structure and cleaning and stripping them in situ. The 
coral-reef stones are gathered from the site, and new 

stones are extracted from the seashore. The new stone 
requires up to three months to dry after it has been 
freshly extracted, and before it is cut. The larger stones 
are cut and dressed for use in the wall construction, and in 
replacing the old corroded stone. The smaller pieces are 
used as infill between the larger ones or for constructing 
the parapet walls. 

Because stone was scarce, and clay for making mud 
bricks is not available in this area, the loadbearing walls 
were constructed in the traditional double skin, using an 
outer and inner skin with an internal infill of smaller 
stone and jtiss. 

Lime was traditionally used for mortar between the 
courses, and wall and terrace floor surface rendering. 
Known asjuss it was produced by burning, pounding and 
crushing the coral-reef stone. The courtyard floors of 
the house were left either covered in earth or paved in 
small stone pebbles. Juss was also used for all the stucco 
decorative geometric and floral patterns, executed in 
borders, used for the dado and relief mural panels. 


Two builders dressing the coral-reef stone for the ongoing restoration of the old 
suq in the al Murayjah quarter in 1996 

Ongoing and completed works include over twenty 
private houses along with the squares, pedestrian walks 
and attached public buildings of al Murayjah, in the 
Harat al Shuyukh quarter in Sharjah. The most important 
buildings that were included in the conservation plan 
were as listed on the site plan (opposite). 



Site plan of the restoration works in al Murayjah, 
Sharjah (Government of Sharjah, Department of 
Culture and Information) 

Bayt Hasan al Madfa': known as al Tawawlsh (work was ongoing in 1 998) 

Bayt Ibrahim al Madfa' (work was ongoing in 1998) 

Majlis Ibrahim al Madfa': Heritage Gallery 

O The old Sharjah suq 

Suq al 'Arasah:the local suq providing shops and a small cafe 4 

Majlis al Nabudah: majlis for receiving guests and visitors to Sharjah 

Bayt al Nabudah: current Heritage Museum 

Bayt Sa'Id al Shamsl (al Tawll):the Islamic Museum 

Bayt Hamad al Madfa': Emirates Writers Society 

Bayt 'Abdullah bin Jum'ah al Mutawwa' 

Bayt al Numan: used as Dar al Nadwah (seminars and meetings ) 

Bayt Rabwl 

Bayt Sultan al Marl 

Bayt Muhammad bin Jasim al ThanI 



«* a\ a a ■ • *\ '■ »■«**<»«** 


Above Above 

A/ Murayjah quarter: path leading The Arts Square 

to the Arts Square 


Old suq, al Murayjah: ground-floor plan 



Suq al 'Arasah, al Murayjah: sections 


Ground-floor plan 




Majlis Ibrahim Muhammad al 
Mad fa', al Murayjah 




Elevations and sections 






o o o 

I iiin 



f Nlr' W W N 







Tfte facade ofBayt Muhammad bin Jasim al Madfa', located near Shaykhah 
Myra's house in the al Murayjah quarter 


Detail of the carved gypsum fanlight screen on the first-floor reception room 


Ground-floor plan 



n r-i n n 


H 'i rn n 




^ A^^ J 

c U OTrer ^rtjww s 


Square leading to the Islamic 
Museum, the former house ofSa'id 
bin Muhammad al Shamsi 


Ground-floor plan of the house 


Top left 

The house of Shaykhah Myra across 
the square in al Murayjah, which 
was renovated in April 1998. In the 
background towers a recently built 
commercial building and between 
the two is a row of modern villas 
that incorporate non-functioning 
windtowers which complement the 
traditional vernacular 


Shaykhah Myra's house: close-up of 
a reconstructed ceiling, showing the 
layers ofshandal purlins with date 
palm-frond stalks (jarid) used as 
rafters and sewn together with 
palm fibre strings 

Top right 

Detail of the wall ventilation 
openings and recesses supported by 
lintels using shandal wood 
wrapped with coconut palm tree 
fibres (narjil) 


The roof during the construction of 
the parapet wall, with the original 
windcatcher at the back 




Shaykhah Myrd's house: detail of 
wall prior to being rendered showing 
the coral reef stone coursing with 
juss (lime plaster), with the ceiling 
composition of shandal purlins and 


Ground-floor plan 

The two most impressive houses, as can be seen from 
the plans, are Bayt al Sirkal and Bayt al Nabudah. The 
work on the latter house commenced in 1990 and was 
completed a year and a half later. The general plan is 
ideally illustrated by the Nabudah house, which has a 
typical L-shaped entrance (known as a raddah) to the 
north-west, opening on to a central courtyard (fans' or 
hiwi) which is surrounded by a total of eleven living and 
private family rooms. The latter, situated on the north- 
west and north-east of the house, are separated from the 
fana' by an arcaded terrace which is raised above the floor 
level by three steps. A circular spiral staircase, three in the 
case of this house, around a central column, leads to the 
first floor where an additional six rooms are located on 
the north-west and north-east section of the house, with 
attached roof terraces. The rooms have a uniform width 
of 2 metres, the larger being between 4.5-5.5 metres in 
length. Most of the large rooms are beautifully decorated 
internally with white bands of relief juss patterns, blind 
arches along the length of the wall and elegant niches. 
There are two small rooms measuring 2x3.5 metres and 


Bayt al Nabudah: view from the arcade of the eastern wing looking towards the 
older single-storey south-west wing 


the storage spaces are 1.5 x 1.5 metres. The windows 
and doors are in carved wood which is also rich in floral 
decorative mortifs. The impressive main entrance door, 
known as the dirwazah, was only opened in full for festive 
occasions and receptions. At other times the smaller door 
opening within the larger frame, known as the farkhah, 
was used. 


Bayt al Ndhudah: view from the courtyard onto the north-east wing 


View of the north-west and south-west wings 


Ground-floor plan 




\\ "|~^ I 1 I 1 I 1 I 1 I 1 I 1 I I IrMnmJL I j"^ [— l r~i 17^77?^ 




Top left 

iJoyt (3/ Nabudah: ceiling detail showing the 
beams ofshandal wood wrapped with rope 
from coconut palm trees known as narjil with 
juss (plaster) infill 

Top right 

First-floor plan 

Right and above 



The kitchen facilities, bathrooms and stores are 
located around a patio directly behind the main private 
spaces of the houses (to the north-east) with a separate 
'back door' to the street to the north-west. According to 
Anderson up to fifty family members lived in the house; 
the older part of the house, situated along the west of 
the fana\ south of the main entrance, was constructed 
between 1905 and 1910, the north-west wing was built 
between 1910 and 1920, and the eastern wing of the 
house was built at a later date. 5 

To the north of the main house is Majlis al 
Nabudah, a modest house in comparison to the first, set 

aside for receiving visitors and accommodating guests. It 
was essentially for holding meetings and provided a space 
for temporary stays, or as a waiting area for visitors 
before being received in the main house. It contains 
three rooms around a central courtyard, an iwan, storage 
spaces and a bathroom. 

The old fort and palace of Husn al Sharjah, 
completely reconstructed, has become the city's 
History Museum, with an emphasis on illustrating the 
traditional architectural details manifest in the building's 
structure. A photograph of the building prior to its 
demolition in 1970 6 shows the considerable alteration in 



isSx /ȣn 



Bayt al Nabudah: sections through the courtyard showing the house's interior facades 


1 : : i : \ 


I J ,-_!- 

I I"! , , J 



i ii ii ii ii ii i 



Majlis al Nabudah: elevations 










— i 

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n r^\ rn m n r 



Majlis al Nabudah: ground-floor 
plan and sections of a south-east- 
facing room 


Ground-floor and location plan 


the current reconstruction of the original fagade of the 
building. The plan of the Husn was revised by the Ruler 
HH Shaykh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad al QasimI, in 
order to assist in the reconstruction of the palace. 

The same conservation and repair techniques 
were implemented in the treatment of the foundations, 


The grounds of the Husn Palace prior to reconstruction, April 1996. The only 
existing part of the original structure is the north-east tower of the current building 


Detail of the old restored tower looking east 

Top right 

Close-up of the roof parapet opening on the east wall 


View from the interior of the old Husn Palace looking across the central 
courtyard towards the north-west corner of the structure where the square tower 
(mushrif) is situated 




Main south-facing facade of the reconstructed Hum Palace, now surrounded by 
the towering commercial buildings along the main business avenue of the city, 
Burj Street. To the right is the tower known as the mhalwasah 

walls, openings, decorative details and ceilings on all 
these buildings. 

Foundations are reinforced after assessing the 
wall thrust and loadbearing properties, with internal 
supports (square or rectangular supports placed at 
intervals along the trench) and additional buttressing 
at the weak points. These are built, using stone, by 
expanding the existing foundation trenches in depth 
and width, up to 50 centimetres and 20 centimetres 
respectively, and effectively building wall supports along 
either side of the foundation base. 

After cleaning and stripping the walls and identifying 
the weak structural points, repairs are commenced. Cracks 
are treated by reinforcing those sections with horizontal 
wall ties, a process known as khyat (sewing). Wall sections 
that are decayed or collapsed are reconstructed. Cavities 
on the face of the rough stone and between the courses 
are injected with a lime infill to reinforce the structure. 
Similarly, lime is poured and injected in the lining of 
the double-skin wall cavity to strengthen the structure 
of loadbearing walls. Juss is used as a finishing coating 
on the interior and exterior walls, and for the surface 

treatment as well as for rendering the jointing of courses 
(pointing or takhil) on the fagades. Apart from being 
aesthetically appealing this serves as a damp-proof course 
with favourable cooling properties. 

Doors, windows, niches and slit ventilation 
openings are identified in the exterior and interior walls 
of the building, according to their form, size and location 
in order to be replaced. 

Columns are constructed as pillars or pilasters. These 
are also built in stone, and located in the liwan (iwan) 
opening on the courtyard, or on terraces preceeding 
first-floor rooms. The circular pillars have a wooden base 
and capital. 

Decorative geometric and floral patterns are 
executed in juss and gypsum, and applied in borders 
and dado running on the facades and wall exteriors, 
below the ceilings on the interior walls and surrounding 
openings. Carved screens in the same patterns are also 
used to cover openings, and wooden moulds are made 
for these. 

The shandal ceiling beams are replaced with new 
ones and treated against decay caused by white ants. The 
ends of the beams that rest on the walls are treated with 
tar, or covered in plastic sheeting. The du 'un is placed 
above the beams - these are scraped palm-frond stalks 


(jarid), fitted together and sewn with palm fibre strings. 
Above this the khus matting (woven palm fronds) is 
replaced if necessary. 

After considering the inclination level required for 
the rain water drainage, roof floors are covered with a 
coating of juss and small stones. 

Exterior roof parapets are constructed: these 
typically functioned as ventilation screens as in Bayt al 
Nabudah. More commonly, though, the roof parapets 
are built with 40 x 40 cm square pillars with wooden 
mashrabiyyah-type screens fitted across. The same low 
parapets are used as partitions between the arcades and 
the interior courtyard (fana*) on the ground floor of 

Many of these houses possessed a barjil, a wind- 
catcher with four openings. These are maintained by 
replacing the internal wooden strut structure, or they are 
rebuilt completely if they are partially damaged. 

Al Shahwiyyin area 

Masjid al Dalll (used for daily prayers) 

Bayt al Sirkal: Technical Training Centre 

Bayt 'Umayr: Fine Arts Society 

Bayt al Sari: Fine Arts Society and Arts Cafe 

Bayt 'Ubayd al Shamsl Building 

Bayt al Shaykh: Arts Library 

The same work plan implemented at al Murayjah 
quarter was employed in these buildings. The community 
has responded favourably to the rehabilitation of the 
buildings, and is very much at home with the new 
environment, especially that of the suq where daily social 
and economic interaction is evident. The shopkeepers of 
the suq are the grandsons of the previous owners and are 
proud of having been able to return. They brag about 
whose grandfather must have been better off, according 
to the size of shop they have inherited. 

Corn/che Road 

House of 

Shaykh Muhammad al QasimT 


Part of the al Shahwiyyin quarter site plan, 1995 (al Shahwiyyin restoration 
works, Government ofSharjah, Department of Culture and Information) 



Traditional master builders of Sharjah 

In April 1996 a meeting was held with three traditional 
master builders in al Sharjah, who are all now retired - 
'Abdullah bin Abdul Rahman al Jarwan, Sayf bin Sa'ld al 
Jarwan and Ibrahim Faraj Muhammad. The term bannay, 
builder, was used even for the master. The terminology 

related to architectural elements and building details is 
very similar to that of neighbouring Oman. 7 Drayish is 
used for window openings and niches, dirwazah for the 
main door or gate, tawl for the water well, salhah for wall 
rendering with the juss (gypsum plaster) and sintwanah 
for the column. Other terms, and those related to 
measure, are common to Arabia in general: sas for the 
foundation, qamah for measuring room height, and 
dhira', the length of the forearm (equal to one and a half 
feet), for measuring lengths. Variation occurs in specific 
terms, for example makhzan is used for the family living 
room as well as any ordinary room. The term majlis is 
only applicable to the men's reception areas, also known 
as diwaniyyah. The sabat are the spaces that open on the 
courtyard, hawsh, and are used for the iwan (or Persian 
liwan). The term howl is also used for the hawsh. Another 
term they use, equivalent to the qamah, is ba\ which is 
the span of the outstretched arms. 


Close-up of the imported coral-reef 
rock used in the reconstruction of 
Sharjah's vernacular architecture 


Close-up showing a newly 
constructed wall with the outer and 
inner skin and an infill of stone 
and poured juss 


A store of woven palm-frond mats 
(khus,), which are placed over 
ceiling panels made from the palm 
stalks ("jarldj stacked on the left 


... r .; 

; I ■ - ■ ■ » - 

- ..' ■ I ■■ ■ - 

According to the builders, the foundations were 
traditionally dug to two or three dhira i below ground 
level, depending on the proximity of the site to the sea. 
The wall thickness was one-and-a-half to two dhira 1, and 
maintained this width on the first floor, so the buildings 
do not taper. Room heights were up to two-and-a-half 
qamah. The stone loadbearing walls were reinforced 
with wooden tie rods, spaced regularly at every three or 
four courses. This technique, according to the builders, 
would make the walls last for up to a hundred years. The 
wood, imported shandal, is completely bound with 'rope' 
made from coconut palm (nftrjlt) fibre and known as 
hibal kumbar. Plastered vajuss, the same wood is used 
to support the spiral staircase and as lintels to span the 
offset horizontal slit-wall openings used for ventilation. 

Top left 

A master craftsman laying the 
jarid stalks to cover the roof of the 
reconstructed suq in the al 
Murayjah quarter, 1996. The jarid 
is first put in place (see right of 
picture) and is then tied together in 
situ (see left of picture) 


The khus woven mats spread over 
the jarid ceiling layer 

Top middle 

A view of a house interior 
undergoing reconstruction, the wall 
containing niches with recessed 
ventilation slits and for storage 

Top right 

]uss-making in the courtyard of a 
building undergoing renovation. The 
limestone is burnt and then broken 
down, pounded to a fine powder and 
then mixed to a paste with water 

The inhabitants lived on the ground floor in winter 
and moved to the first floor in summer. The first-floor 
rooms had several window openings, built-in wall 
ventilation openings in horizontal gaps and the barjil, 
all providing air movement and a cool breeze on the 
interiors. The slit wall and barjil shaft openings would be 
closed off in winter. The houses of ordinary inhabitants 
would have two to three rooms, on one floor only. The 
merchants and Shuyukh built grand houses of 1 to 15 
rooms on two storeys. 

The builders told me that there were many of those 
traditional houses in 'this country', bilad, but they were 
all pulled down. When I asked how many, they said the 
whole of Sharjah, all of it was built like this and now 
nothing remains. When I asked about the rebuilding, 
they commented that whatever was now being built will 
never look like the original: 'alawwalawalmayirja" ('the 
original was of the past, it cannot be returned'). They 
said that the construction techniques differed now: the 
walls are being built in double skin with an infill of stone 
chip and plaster, of which they disapproved. Previously, 
they told me, the wall was built in a single skin of rubble 
work using the natural rough large coral-reef stones. 




The two most important quarters, as far as the 
architectural heritage of Dubai is concerned, were 
the housing of al Bastakiyyah and al Shandaghah. The 
architecture of the Shandaghah quarter was totally 
obliterated four or five years ago. The al Bastakiyyah 
quarter, currently containing the largest number of 
traditional buildings in one area, 8 including the renovated 
Palace of the Ruler, 9 is now subject to a renovation 
and architectural rehabilitation scheme to include 
fifty houses. A committee for the preservation of the 
architectural heritage was formed in 1995, affiliated to the 
Historic Buildings Department 10 of Dubai Municipality. 
Several successful conservation projects were carried out 
by this department including the work on Madrasat al 

The question of Dubai's conservation, especially 
concerning the area of al Shandaghah, which was 
described as having been the heart of the old city, 
remains a complex issue. It is intended that of the 
demolished quarter's buildings 140 houses are to be 
reconstructed after new drawings that were prepared 
by the Municipality, since no surveys were conducted 
prior to the demolition of the quarter. However, recent 
tourism and 'folklore'-oriented buildings constructed 
on the site (a heritage village at Khawr Dubai in the 
vicinity of the Shaykh Sa'ld bin Maktum house) indicate 
a short-term commercial prospect rather than a serious 
attempt at replacing the razed fabric of al Shandaghah 
quarter. The reconstruction of the traditional residential 
fabric of this quarter also seems to present a cultural 

enigma, with the local inhabitants attributing its now lost 
architectural heritage of windtower houses to the Persian 
merchant community of Dubai. 

Dubai Municipality has placed equal importance on 
the documentation of the architectural heritage as on the 
process of the city's modern town planning. This is 
apparent in the ongoing exhibition at the Municipality, 
where documentation and evaluation can be seen, 
accompanied by a comprehensive presentation by the 
Historic Buildings Department, illustrating the numerous 
completed projects of restoration and renovation of 
several vernacular buildings and sites. The visual 
material (architectural drawings and photographs) is 
accompanied by the documentation and application 
of traditional elements and concepts in architectural 
design. This newly established department carries out 
studies and researches into the traditional architecture, 
through surveys and documentation, for the purpose 
of developing the use of those elements in modern 
architectural design and planning. The department is 
also responsible for preparing a publication programme 
on heritage issues, aimed at increasing public awareness. 

The department's research highlights the importance 
of the study of the architectural history of Dubai; the 
effects of the post-1 960s development are considered 
along with the relationship of the two urban fabrics and 
the solutions that may be recommended in terms of 
materials, function and climatic responses of architecture 
and planning. 

Conservation: Dubai municipality 

The Historic Buildings Department earmarked 
the principal remaining traditional areas for con- 
servation. The programme included the following: al Ras 
(including Madrasat al Ahmadiyyah, Bayt al Turath and 
Masjid Lutah); al Suq al Kablr in Dubai, al Suq al Kablr 
in al Dayrah, al Bastakiyyah, al Shandaghah and the 

rehabilitation of the creek fagades on Khawr Dubai. 
Separate buildings included Husn a l Fahldl, Bayt al 
Shaykh Sa'ld bin Maktum, Bayt al Wakll and Majlis al 
Ghurayfah. A documentation was carried out of the 
buildings and main residential conservation areas that 
included the buildings restored between 1991 and 1 995 



with architectural surveys, plans, elevations and drawings 
of decorative details." The projects reviewed below are 
selective and contribute in context to presenting some 
unique examples of the architectural heritage of Dubai. 12 

The house of Shaykh Sa'id bin 

The rehabilitation of Bayt al Shaykh Sa'id bin 
Maktum was completed in 1986 by Makiya 
Associates. The structural condition of the house was 
dilapidated. Photographs supplied by the architects with 
the project submission to the AKAA" show the building 
in near dereliction, with partial collapse to various parts 
of the structure. The consultants proposed a complete 
scheme for the reconstruction, based on surveys they 
had conducted in 1980; the conservation works were 

contracted out, since the Municipality at the time did 
not have the necessary expertise. The work included the 
conservation of the sur and providing the building with 
modern facilities (electricity, air-conditioning, water 
supply and sewerage). It was completely restored to its 
original state and the windows and doors that were 
beyond repair were replaced with identical newly made 

The Municipality then decided to make use of this 
building and turned it into a museum of documents and 

Below left 

Aerial views of the Heritage Village 
and recreational resort constructed in 
the grounds of the Shadaghali 
district, close to Shaykh Sa'id bin 
Maktum 's house 

Below right 

Aerial view of Shaykh Sa'id bin 
Maktum 's house in the Shandaghah 
district of Dubai, restored by 
Makiya Associates, 1 986 


Blind arches in the facade wall near 
the entrance 




Shaykh Sa'ld bin Maktum's house: close-up of the arcade and first-floor rooms 


Interior of one of the rooms on the first floor looking out across the creek 


Close-up detail of one of the windtowers 



photographs of traditional architecture. It was divided 
into nine wings, one of which exhibits the documentation 
of the conservation process and the state the building 
was in prior to the restoration. One wing is dedicated to 
photographs of the Al Maktum family, pertaining to the 
Shaykh Sa'ld's life, views of the old town, and his sons 
up to Shaykh Maktum. Another wing covers the city of 
Dubai's urban history, through photographs taken by 
travellers, including aerial views, chronologically ordered 
to illustrate the urban development and planning of the 
town. Another wing is dedicated to life at sea which 
formed an essential economic base for the inhabitants 
of Dubai, with examples of the local ships that were 
used, diving devices employed in pearl diving, fishing 
and ship building including the provision of supplies for 
regular journeys. Another wing exhibits photographic 
views of the city post- 1960s, with its buildings and 
lifestyles, and another is dedicated to the social life, the 
suqs and trade activities, religious and traditional social 

A collection of stamps and coins is exhibited 
showing the coins that were in use for three centuries. 
The upper floor has a wing on Bedouin and desert life 
in photographs, with another section on historical 
documents including old passports, commercial passes, 
local decrees from the Ruler, etc. Another section contains 
historical maps showing the location of Dubai in the 

early world maps of travellers. A wing for administrative 
and service facilities is also provided. The majlis on the 
first floor is preserved for receiving guests with the 
traditional hospitality. 

This was the first project the Municipality con- 
ducted with Makiya Associates as consultants. According 
to the Municipality, the latter's thorough study of the 
building was accompanied by an integral study of 
architectural planning in Dubai. 

It is an exceptionally well-designed building of 
considerable architectural value. The articulation of the 
internal spaces and the details that are worked around 
the walls, open spaces and ventilated rooms are equally 
pleasing and interesting for their organization as for the 
conceptual sense that dictated the design. It points to a 
tradition of formal mansion building that existed in the 
architecture that evolved in the cities of the Gulf, with 
particular similarity in the distribution of the floor spaces 
and the organization of the interior and exterior spaces 
to the mansions of Muharraq in Bahrain. This house was 
effectively the only building that was excluded from the 
process of urban cleansing that overtook the rest of al 
Shandaghah quarter. 

Below Bottom 

Shaykh Sa'id bin Maktum 's house: Section 

east elevation 





D n°n°n 







gaWSW WrfW i tira ig 







Top left 

Shaykh Sa'id bin Maktum's house: 
windtower sections 


Carving details on a door frame 

Top right 

Floral details on a decorative panel 


Detail of patterns on decorative 
gypsum screen 



The wakil, 'agent', was the agent for the British 
India Steam Navigation Company. The house was 
constructed in 1934. Situated in Barr Dubai, it has a 

spectacular location overlooking the Dubai creek, with 
access to the western entrance to the suq. u The works 
were commenced in 1994 and completed by 1996. 


Bayt al Wakil: ground-floor plan 



Conservation: the al Ras quarter 

This is one of the oldest quarters in Dayrah. 
The area was the residence of the distinguished 
merchants and there were a number of select houses 
adjacent to the Ahmadiyyah School. The plan of the area 
shows a complex often surviving buildings, surrounded 
by dull modern construction. 

Madrasat al Ahmadiyyah 

Located in the residential quarter of al Ras, this is 
thought to be one of the oldest Nizamiyyah schools 
in Dubai. It was constructed in 1912 by Shaykh Ahmad 
bin Dalmuk, after whom it was named. The structure 
was built in three phases. In the initial stage it occupied 
the ground floor of an original residence that was 
converted into a school. In the second stage an upper 
room was added serving as accommodation for the 
teachers. In the third stage the roof terrace was covered 
by constructing the riwaq gallery, arcades opening onto 
the courtyard, where traditional teaching classes were 
held. The Ahmadiyyah was a primary school where 
most of the elite of Dubai studied. It is one of the rare 
buildings where Qur'anic scripts are used in the stucco 
work to decorate the interior walls. 

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A! Ahmadiyyah School: details of patterns on gypsum window screens 


Section through the courtyard 


When the conservation project started in 1993 the 
structure of the building was in a derelict state. The 
barjil had been completely removed in the 1940s, due 
probably to structural cracks that had occurred in 
the building. This was one of the earliest projects the 
Municipality took over and carried out after founding 
the Heritage Buildings Conservation Unit. The office of 
Makiya worked on preparing the architectural building 

design. The building was completed in the end of 1995, 
and the Municipality decided to turn it into a museum 
for learning, with specific activities and some historic 
documents on display, distributed according to the 
size of the spaces. The building has been installed with 
central air-conditioning through underground ducts and 
trenches for the electricity supply. 

,.i , 1- — jr...M i. ■ ..■■* ' ■ ' ' " ■ ■ . ' ■■■•" ■'.■.'■•. — ^ — ..•■».#••■« ' • »•■ ' * - •.:■ '•'• "l' "■ ' .. " . ".. 


Al Ahmadiyyah School: ground-floor plan 



Bayt alTurath 

Adjacent to al Ahmadiyyah, Bayt al Turath is a 
large residential house with 1,800 square metres 
of floor space, which has been turned into a museum 
of traditional residential buildings. Originally owned 
by one of Dubai's merchants whose name was not 
disclosed, its ownership then changed hands on several 
occasions resulting in alterations and additions over 
the past decades. It was constructed around 1890, the 
architectural elements found in the building reflecting 
the cultural background and social status of the owner. 
Work on the house took two years, and was completed in 
1995. After conservation of the building the decorative 
patterns were completely restored. 

The area of al Ras in al Dayrah has witnessed a 
rapid cultural change due to the economic development 
that occurred, affecting the residents and property 
owners. Most of the old houses that exist here are located 
in the heart of the old city centre, which is also the city's 
traditional commercial centre. Since it was convenient 
for the merchants to store their stock close to their shops 
and offices in the suq, for the last 15 to 20 years most of 
the old houses have been used as depots. This has meant 
that these buildings were hardly maintained during this 
period and the internal spaces have been altered to 
accommodate storage, including the removal of various 
original features and architectural elements. 


Bayt al Turath: ground-floor plan 


Front elevation 


Masjid bin Dalmuk 

Located to the east of al Madrasah, this is also known 
as Masjid Lutah, after Nasir bin 'Ubayd Lutah who 
was responsible for originally conserving this mosque. 

According to the Municipality the mosque was 
completely reconstructed after it was pulled down. In 

the absence of any records of the building it was not 
possible to restore the building to the original design; 
instead a 'traditional mosque' plan was drawn up. 15 






U M 



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h- 1 h-H , 


Bin Dalmuk mosque: ground- floor plan 


Y~°(\ \f~ "sfi rp* — t(] re" — tti [P^ Y~*S 







South-west elevations 



Conservation: Hatta village 

A separate study was the renovation/repair of Hatta 
village, located in the mountain terrain 170 kilo- 
metres from Dubai. The village stands on a mountain 
slope by a lake, and both the scenery and climate are very 
appealing. The architecture of the village is different 
from the local architecture of Dubai and relies on 
mountain stones, rubble and palm trees rather than 
coral-reef and shell-stones, lime juss and shandal wood. 

The conservation project of Hatta village was 
begun in 1 990 by a consultant who presented complete 
surveys of the twenty houses of the village. Some of 
the houses were still inhabited at the time but others 
had been abandoned. The Municipality obtained the 
ownership of all the properties on the site including two 
towers (abraj) at the top of the village. 

According to local accounts, the village dates back 
at least six centuries, having been a crossroad for two 
trade caravan routes, one between the coast of Oman and 
the Gulf and the other between Fujairah and Sharjah. 
The early nomadic settlement became a flourishing 
urban centre, situated as it is amidst fertile land with 
abundant water from the adjacent wadis. 

Due to the importance of this location the 
Municipality took an interest in conserving the village 
and appointed Makiya Associates as consultants on the 

if f> 9Hj ~ -v*~ ■ 

-. - 

project to conduct the building survey. The remote 
location of the village required special logistics to 
transport the equipment and materials for the con- 
servation works that were contracted, and this was 
completed in 1995. The majority of the twenty buildings 
that were restored in the first phase were traditional 
houses. In addition the hum and a mosque and 12 smaller 
buildings have been renovated. 

Once the project was complete investment plans 
were commissioned in order to exploit the buildings. A 
number of the buildings are to be turned into ethnic 
museums portraying the traditional social life; the aim is 
to redefine the buildings' function with the intention of 


View of the restored hum and some of the adjacent housing under renovation 
and reconstruction in 1998, Hatta 


Aerial view of the Hatta village resort, a tourist attraction situated 170 km from 
Dubai, with its spectacular unspoilt surroundings 



creating a tourist village. This project, it was estimated 
in 1 996, will take some time to realize since the buildings 
are quite dispersed and the framework for the project is 
not yet developed. On a practical level the issue of land 
ownership and creating access to the area is a complex 
one, particularly because of the high compensation value 
of agricultural land. 

Aerial views of the village give a general impression 
of the village's hum, mosque and the largest of the houses, 
and the rest of the housing cluster which is composed of 
a variety of small, medium and large houses. 

All of these buildings have been restored. Stone is 
used for the foundations, then mud brick {tub libin) from 
one metre above ground level, with mud mortar. As 

Hatta is a mountainous area, the buildings use no 
coral-reef stones. The ceilings were constructed out of 
date-palm trunks for wooden beams with «z /date-palm 
branches thatched in matting laid on top. Heavy seasonal 
rains present a problem, causing deterioration of the 
walls. A maintenance project has been set up to repair the 
buildings after each rainy season. Such a continuous 
maintenance scheme is considered an inconvenience in 
modern architectural practice, but the Municipality was 
aware that the only alternative would have involved 
changing the type of building materials completely (i.e. 
using cement instead of the traditional materials), so 
defeating the purpose of the initial excercise. 

In search of the vernacular 

The Northern Emirates 

As one thinks about the squalid effects of urban- 
ization, unsettling and disquieting, one reflects, 
with little dispassion, on how the ethos of architecture 
can be so blatantly breached, and the art precluded by a 
reduced practice that turns cities into overwhelming 
structures of disparity. Arriving at the Umm al Quwayn 
road, nature regains its control over the expanse, along 
with the Arabian Gulf, the desert shrubs and some palms. 
More importantly no buildings deflect from the serenity 
of this natural landscape. 

Ra's al Khaymah Fort is now the city museum, located 
in the old quarter in the midst of an urban fabric that 
appears generally unappealing and dilapidated. The aerial 
survey shows that this is not quite the case, by revealing 
the core of a traditional quarter with courtyard housing 
and cluster planning, albeit with little architectural merit. 

In his study on the architecture of Ra's al Khaymah, 
Walter Dostal documented the general house forms in 
the coastal zone, the plains and the mountains. This 
included a climate classification of the house types in 
Jazlrt al Hamra, Rams, al Shimal, Dayah, Khatt, Khamad 


Aerial view of the old housing cluster to the north of Ra's al Khaymah Fort 





and the surrounding wadi settlements. He gives an 
account of the traditional settlement pattern of using the 
summer house (May to October) and the winter house 
(November to March). 

Whereas the l artsh type of house is common to the 
coastal area, in the plain between the mountains and 
the coast he mentions a type of rectangular flat-roofed 
house constructed of mud brick, known as darlsh. In the 
mountain zone a 'rectangular summer house' is referred 
to as sayfah (from sayf, summer) where the walls are built 
with ashlar stone (without mortar) and the roof consists 
of 'horizontal transoms covered with branches and brush'. 
This last type comes in four variations, with differences 
in the relative size of openings, number of entrances, and 
the number of walls - sometims only three walls are built 
leaving the other side open for ventilation. 16 

The winter house types of the coastal zone are 
either built of stone or sun-dried bricks with a roof of 
palm trunks and branches covered in a thick mud layer, 
or the traditional khaymah type built entirely from date- 
palm branches and fronds. The plain between mountains 
and coast has the above two house types along with a 
third type known as kartn (which Dostal identifies as a 
variation on the khaymah). This is built from sun-dried 
mud-brick walls and uses the lightweight palm branches 

Above left 

Ra's al Khaymah Fort: the north-west corner tower, which is five-sided and 
irregular in plan, and has three storeys (cf. Kennet survey p. 103) 

Above right 

Crenellation detail on the south parapet wall 

and fronds for the roof. In the mountain area these three 
are all found, as well as stone-built houses, khaymah (oval 
in plan) with stone walls up to 1 metre, kartn (with stone 
walls instead of bricks built up to 1 metre), and a khaymah 
variation that is circular in plan with 50-80 centimetre 
stone walls. The ceilings are all constructed with date- 
palm branches and fronds for roofs. 

A significant work on the formal defence type of 
construction, which includes well-illustrated architectural 
surveys of 75 known towers and structures in Ra's al 
Khaymah, has been produced by Derek Kennet. As 
architectural specimens the towers provide an interesting 
variety of examples, in plan and elevation. A number of 
these towers stand well above the housing, at 1 1 metres 
in height (including the Fort of Ra's al Khaymah). Some 
have three storeys, and are constructed from a variety of 
building materials including limestone cobbles layered 
into mortar, mud brick, beach-rock and coral-stone. 
An interesting wall building technique, identified as a 
layered construction, involves separate layers of one 
or two stone courses, and a horizontal layer of mortar 
creating alternate bands. 17 



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New metal door on one of the houses north ofRa's al Khaymah Fort 



Jazirt al Hamra' 

Deserted single-storey houses constructed out of 
coral-reef stone and mud brick, this is one of the 
few settlements left in the area containing significant 
vernacular architecture. Two towers have been restored, 
Burj al Bumah and Burj al Ma'sharah. 18 Some interesting 
wall detailing can still be discerned in the wall niches of 
a good number of houses. 

*■- m^' IIP 5 '" 


Close-up of the circular tower of Burj al Bumah, built of beach-rock and coral. 
The tower has been restored and appears to have had its proportions slightly 
altered, particularly in the top section, according to the documented surveys 
conducted in 1991-92 and published in Kennet (1995, p. 49) 


Wall detail showing the niches that appear on the exterior of a house behind the 
Bumah tower 

Only an aerial survey could cover the length of the 
Northern Emirates and give an insight into the remaining 
fabric and buildings of the area. 19 Byroad, these locations 
were not easily accessible, particularly the sporadic 
settlements in the area of Ru'us al Jibal. 


Close-up of a restored murabba'ah (tower) in jazirt al Hamra. There is no 
reference to this murabba'ah in Kennet's study, although he does refer to 
another round tower, Burj al Ma'sharah (Kennet 1995, p. 50) 


Close-up of a distinguished courtyard mansion in jazirt al Hamra, incorporating 
two bad gir and two malqaf-type windcatchers 




Aerial views of a deserted jazirt al Hamrd, showing one of the largest quarters 
where vernacular architecture remains. The single-storey housing incorporates 
courtyards and is constructed from coral-reef stone and mud brick. 


Aerial view of the restored Hum Kalbd' fortress, now a museum. In the 
foreground is the house ofShaykh Sa'id al Qasimi undergoing renovation 

From Abu Dhabi we flew east across the sands of 
Madam, beautiful dunes near al Dhayd, to the sands of 
Hatta. Then via al Masafi we headed east to Fujairah and 
Kalba' on the Gulf of Oman. The old housing quarter 
is marked by Husn Kalba', which has been renovated 
and turned into a museum for the area. There is also an 

interesting house, Bayt al Shaykh Sa'id al Qasimi, which 
was undergoing renovation. 

On the road between Khawr Fakkan and Diba, also 
on the Gulf of Oman, is situated the Bidyah mosque, 3 8 
kilometres north of Fujairah and 25 kilometres south of 
Diba. In his account and documentation of the mosque 20 
Nasir al 'Abudl mentions that the masjid is named after 
the adjacent village of al Bidyah and that the inhabitants 
are aware neither of the date of its construction nor of 
the origin of the proper name. The form of the mosque 
and the flattened tetrahedron domes are almost identical 
to those of the Bilad ban! bu 'All mosque in the Sharqiyyah 
region of Oman. 21 The latter has fifty domes; this mosque 
is much smaller and square with a central pillar and 
loadbearing walls carrying four domes (with a total area 
of 53 square metres). The mosque has one entrance, on 
the eastern wall, and no minaret. 22 The sculptural, almost 
voluptuous form of the pointed arches on the interior are 
closer to those of the Husn Yanqul mosque in Oman. 23 


Aerial view of al Bidyah mosque from the south west. The mihrab of the west- 
facing qiblah wall can be seen protruding from the back facade 




J 5* 


^ f 


Located between Diba and Khawr 
Fakkan is the mosque of a] Bidyah, 
seen here from the east, with its 
four tetrahedron flattened domes 
that echo the style of the Bilad banl 
bu 'All mosque in Oman 

Above middle 

Cultivated fields separated by low 
parapet stone walls on one of the 
steps of Ru'us al jibal 


A few houses form one of the 
settlements ofRu'us al jibal, each 
attached to a cultivated field. A 
road marking appears in the 
background, although there is no 
sign of any cars across the high 


Deserted housing in loose-set stone, 
Ru'us al jibal 

'Abudl draws attention to Lorimer's mention of al 
Bidyah, and the existence of another village in Oman 
in al Sharqiyyah region north-west of Bilad banl bu 
Hasan in Ja'lan by that name, which may explain why 
this mosque is unique in style and form among the 
mosque architecture of the Emirates. 24 However, despite 
the relative proximity to Ja'lan, the town of al Bidyah 
is actually located south of Ibra', and within the 
administrative division of the province of al Qabil. That 
a migration took place from there to the Northern 
Emirates is certainly possible, considering the continuous 
flux and movement that took place in this territory 
which was within the hegemony of Oman. In any case, 
the architecture is definitely directly influenced by the 
elaborate Omanl version of Ja'lan. 

We flew west from there to Ra's al Khaymah and to 
the mountain peaks ofRu'us al Jibal. Lying north of Diba 
and east of Ra's al Khaymah, the mountain terrain which 
extends a long way into the Musandam Peninsula of 
Oman is vast and green in spring. Before ascending to 
the plateau, on the terraces at the foothills and above 
the modern town of al Rams which lies between Ru'us 
al Jibal and the coast, we saw an intact and inhabited 
cluster of houses which we photographed from the air 
before landing close by. 

In Ru'us al Jibal the Shuhuh tribes have their 
remote dwellings perched in the rocks in an apparently 




Village below Ru'us al jibal with a cluster of traditional houses attached to 
large courtyards 


Close-up of one of the courtyard houses located at the foot of Ru'us al jibal, 
close to the newer development of al Rams 

inaccessible wilderness at a height of 2,000 metres above 
sea level. Single-storey stone buildings, some deserted, 
lie scattered. Some are built in ashlar, others in rubble 
work with large forecourts. Settlements of five to ten 
houses each are dispersed on the high plateau. They are 
similar in style to the neighbouring buildings of the 
Shuhuh in Musandam, except the courtyards are larger 
in size and there was no sign of any concrete buildings. 
One particular house was distinguished by the pierced 
narrow slit openings which ran across its whole 
width and length. Circular, low parapet walls surround 
cultivated fields on the terraces, indicating the proximity 
of a settlement. I could not see any roads or cars in this 
area and wondered how people got to their homes. 

We then flew to the old housing quarter of Ra's 
al Khaymah. Here the courtyard-type housing close 
to the old fort was very interesting, and shows the 
transformation from the traditional type to the modern 
cement construction. The houses are single storey, still 
in keeping with the traditional courtyard form and closely 
packed together. From the ground the buildings appear 
shabby and ordinary, and there is no indication of 
the arrangement and quarter planning which becomes 
evident from the air. 

From the air one realizes that the town of Jazlrt 
al Hamra is a vast quarter. The housing cluster lies 
completely deserted by the sea. One house had two 
towering windcatchers, and there was a mosque with a 
quaint minaret standing alone and separate from it, with 
some decorative detailing painted in green. The village 
appeared of interest for preservation. Arches and niches 
featured liberally in the broken town walls, indicating a 
more sophisticated level of inhabitants. 

Umm al Quwayn 

Umm al Quwayn is characterized by the bay of 
Khawr al Baydah, with fishing boats, a fort, streets 
and houses and two towers along the coast. There was a 
complete remaining quarter with grey walls and 'arish 
canopies and roofs (as in the Khawr Fakkan orchard 
housing) protruding through the ceilings around the 
whole fagade. The hum appeared to be under renovation 
or in the course of being rebuilt. 


Two towers, and a quarter which appeared empty 
and quite vast from the air, looked more or less intact. 
This was a revelation, of a deserted site considerably 
larger in size and scale than the traditional quarters of the 
other northern emirate towns. There were courtyards 
with trees, sometimes just one forlorn palm. It is 
interesting to note that all the housing has flat arcades 
opening in a long row onto the enclosed forecourts. This 
was also true of Ra's al Khaymah's modernized quarter 
near the museum and of Umm al Quwayn where most of 
the l artsh mat roofing was still in place. 'Arish shading 
canopies, with no walls and open on all sides, are still 
found in the courtyards and cultivated fields. 


Umm al Quwayn, at Khawr al Baydah on the Arabian Gulf. The old quarter 
and the hum are seen to the right in the foreground 



The palm fields of Khawr Fakkan where the traditional 'arish summer dwellings 
are still used 



1 Lefebvre adds that 'A "culture" is necessary not only to 
understand the abstract, but far more to attain the disturbing 
frontiers which at one and the same time distinguish and unite 
the concrete and the abstract, knowledge and art, mathematics 
and poetry.' Lefebvre, Writings on Cities, p. 133. 

Adapting to change 

1 See Frauke Heard-Bey, From Trucial States to United Arab 
Emirates. A Society in Transition. 

2 Stephen Longrigg, 'The Liquid Gold of Arabia' , Journal of the 
Royal Central Asian Society, vol. 36, pp. 20-3 esp. p. 2 1. 

3 See monthly rainfall chart for 1 5 stations in UAE Ministry of 
Planning, Annual Statistical Abstract, 17th edn, pp. 17ff. 

4 See J.G. Lorimer, Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central 
Arabia, vol. II, pp. 143 Iff. 

5 See photographs by Ronald Codrai in his hook Abu Dhabi: An 
Arabian Alburn,,^. 169. 

6 See the picture of the tower at Dhafir in the Liwa, ibid., p. 171. 

7 This expression was coined by Frauke Heard-Bey, op. cit., 
pp. 198ff. 

8 See Paolo M. Costa, Musandam,: Architecture and Material Culture 
of a Little Known Region of Oman. 

9 See Fred Scholz, Nomadismus. Theorie und Wandel einer sozio- 
oekologischen Kulturweise. 

10 See B.J. Slot, The Arabs of 'the Gulf 1602-1784, and AT. Wilson, 
The Persian Gulf. 

1 1 See Lorimer, op. cit., vol. I, p. 1438. 

12 The families of the tribal pearl divers often left the sweltering 
humid island for the date gardens in the interior during the 

13 The expatriates came mainly from Britain, India, Egypt and 
Jordan but from many other countries as well. 

14 People still remember when listening to the radio was a luxury 
indulged in by the few who had a car battery. 

15 In the case of Abu Dhabi, its location was where there is now 
the fourth road inland from the Corniche. Dubai's first power 
station was on the creek near where the Municipality building 
stands today. 

Brave New Cities 

1 In her now outdated but popular classic The Economy of Cities 
Janet Jacobs remarked on works of imitation which 'seldom 
require as much trial and error as innovations do'. 

2 Issam El Said and Ayse Parman, Geometric Concepts in Islamic Art. 

3 The reverse context of representation, and perhaps not, was 
advanced by John Biln in his reading of Jean Nouvel's Institut de 
Monde Arabe building in Paris, where this notion of representa- 
tion of the other is introduced and well articulated (Postcolonial 
Space(s) p. 32). Biln says: 'The Arab Institute reveals an implicit 
understanding that representation-in-metonymy is incomplete . . . 

because representation itself is always partial: it always and 
necessarily both misses what cannot be represented and mis- 
represents what can' (p. 3 1). 

4 'Cultural Creation and Change in Arab Societies at the End of the 
20th Century', organized by the Institute for the Transregional 
Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and 
Central Asia, Princeton University, Granada 4—8 May 1998. 

5 See Oleg Grabar, The Alhambra, p. 93. 

6 See this writer's introduction to Translucent City. 

7 Cf.ibid. 

8 For example Robert Venturi in response to Mies Van der Rohe, 
'Less is Bore', and Leon Krier. 

9 John R. Harris Architects maintained an office in Dubai 
since 1958. The practice was responsible for the Survey and 
Development Plan of Abu Dhabi, 1961 and the first Town Plan 
for the City of Dubai, 1958, and the review of the Development 
Plan in 1971. 

10 See Salma Samar Damluji, The Architecture of Oman. 

1 1 Architectural Review no. 964. 

12 See Fredric Jameson's foreword to Jean-Francois Lyotard's The 
Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. 

1979-1983 no. 58, Tokyo 1985. 

14 Architectural Review no. 1213, pp. 43-4. 

15 See Translucent City, op. cit. 

16 Related to the cultural alienation of new cities, precipitated 
by the economic interplay, domination and inter-influences of 
western culture, in other words post-colonialism. Edward Said 
(Culture and Imperialism, 1993) analyses the relationship between 
the 'metropole' and 'periphery', west and east respectively, 
and the marginalization of the culture of the 'other'. Under no 
circumstance should this analogy, however, redeem the 'other' 
of the implications which have afflicted the urban fabric of 
cities, in the quest of being identified or recognized within the 
metropole, and breaking from the associated isolation of the 
periphery. See this writer's paper on 'The Other Environment', 
Asilah 1994. 

17 Al Qashani, Istilahat al Sufiyyah, p. 36. (This proverb is also 
mentioned by al Shaykh Ibn al ' Arabi, Muhiddin, in his opus Al 
Futuhat al Makiyyah, and al Shaykh aljilani, Abdul Qadir, in The 
Secret of Secrets, and Al Ghazah, in The Beautiful Ninety-Nine 
Names of Allah. 

18 Al Shaykh Ibn al 'Arabi, Muhiddin, Al Futuhat al Makiyyah, 
vol. II, p. 121. 

19 Chaired by HE Sayf Binjabir al Hamily. 

2 'The concept was initiated with the creation of the Construction 
Lending Corporation in 1971, followed by the Commercial 
Buildings Supervisory Committee in 1976. The corporate 
structure was finalised with the issuance of an Emiri decree 
setting up the Social Service and Commercial Buildings 
Department in 1981.' Information leaflet provided by the 



Statistics Section, Department of Commercial Buildings, not 
dated but providing statistics up to 1 August 1995. 

21 Ibid. 

22 In fact it is almost interest free at 0.5%. 

23 Both A. Radi and N. Ahmad in their contributions, however, 
make reference to the form of these constraints and bye-laws that 
have determined the criteria and prototype features of buildings 
lining the streets of the city. 

24 Architectural Review no. 964, p. 338. 

2 5 These are separately covered in later chapters. 

26 'The Committee for the Preservation of the Arab Islamic 
Architectural Style, City of al Ayn 1987-1990. Arabic Report' 
(no date, probably 1990) supplied to the writer by the Town 
Planning Department of al Ayn in January 1996. 

27 Shankland Cox, London 1996, compiled in 2 volumes. 

2 8 This involved a number of 'consultants' of Arab, Korean, Belgian 

and Tunisian origin. No one seems however to be able to 
name their offices. For a description of the origins and historical 
development of the building see el Mutwalli, Qasr al Husn. 

29 An article published by Cahiers d'Art. 

30 This text is extracted from S.S. Damluji, Translucent City. 

3 1 Courtesy of Jafar Tukan, Amman. 

32 Courtesy of AKAA, Architect's Record, UAE.P000535. 

33 AKAA, project identification no. UAE.P000865. 

34 AKAA, project identification no. UAE.P001442. 

3 5 A.E.J. Morris, John R. Harris Architects. 

36 Ott was part of NORR Group when he designed this project. He 

left NORR Group when the project was at working-drawings 

stage but oversaw the building's design. 
3 7 Description provided for the author by NORR architect Syed Ali 

38 Quoted from Introduction to project text provided by NORR 

3 9 Turner Steiner International was responsible for the construction 

management. The interior design was carried out by Design 

Division, a firm owned by the client (not affiliated to NORR 


40 Raymond Mathewson Hood (1881-1934). His MacGraw Hill 
building in New York (193 1) is one of the first skyscrapers built 
in the International Modern style. The Rockefeller Center was 
begun in 1931. The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, 4th edn 
1991, Penguin Books, London & New York, p. 2 14. 

41 Paper originally prepared for the Chicago Institute of Art in 
April 1999 by architect Syed Ali al-Karimi, assistant to Hans 
Krause, Project Manager (Emirates Towers 1996-2000), NORR 
Group Consultants. 

42 Ibid. 

43 The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), 
Lehigh University, USA, monitors the heights and ranks of 

44 The triangle is at the heart of a complete set of Islamic patterns 
and configurations (based on the / 3 which have been eliminated 
and are less favoured than the / 2 square generated patterns) in 
contemporary designs in the Arab world. This is due to the political 
association attached to the six-pointed star, formed by two triangles. 

45 Winner of the 1 999 Conde Nast Best Resort Hotel in the World 

46 The Wild Wadi, the second phase of the development, is a Disney 
aqua park covering a total area of 3 2 acres (64 hectares), offering 
'wild wave and pool rides' and flash-flood water features in the 
surrounds of a 'themed heritage' landscape covering 3.1 hectares. 
The theme is based on an Arabic children's story of ocean-bound 
traders. Rockwork wadis, with timber and rope structures and a 
theatrical waterfall 'flood event', are the highlight of the design. 

47 Press Pack Jumeirah Beach Resort, WS Atkins, Head Office, 
Epsom (courtesy of Simon Crispe and WS Atkins & Partners, 

48 WS Atkins, a British firm with head office in Surrey, has offices in 
Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Nearly half of its overseas business is in 
Asia and a quarter is in the Middle East. 

49 'World's Tallest Hotel' according to the 2001 edn of Guinness 
Book of Records. 

50 WS Atkins, (brochure) 'The Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Technological 

5 1 WS Atkins Press Pack, op. cit. 

52 WS Atkins Press Pack, ibid. 

53 HyperShooter®, MiniShooter® and LeapFrogs® are all 
registered trademarks. 

54 WET Design and Simon Crispe in WS Atkins Press Pack, ibid. 

55 Jumeirah Beach Hotel won several awards in 1999, including 
'The Best International Hotel of the Year Award 1999', 'No. 1 
International Leisure Attraction of the Year Award 1999' and 
'Best New Business Hotel of the Year Award 1999'. In its first 
year it had 80 per cent occupancy, and now has near 100 per cent 
occupancy even through the 'off peak' season, previously unheard 
of in Dubai. 

56 The interior design of the Burj al-Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel 
was carried out by Kuan Chew Associates (London and Dubai). 

57 The original building programme was extended 'by creating 
an additional university consisting of 2 separate Polytechnic 
Colleges, one for women and one for men. Each comprises an 
Islamic studies and Shariah Law college and an Arts and Sciences 
college separated by an administration building and mosque . . . 
A Police Academy building has also been constructed within the 
site. The entrance to the "approach avenue" of the university 
city complex has a public Central Library and multi-purpose 
auditorium'. Paper by Friedrich Ragette, 'An American University 
in the Arabian Desert (status of spring 2000)', unpublished, 
February 2000. Courtesy of author. 

58 Based in Jeddah, SBL Group was entirely responsible for 
the construction and supervising of the design for the major 
extension projects of the Holy Mosques in Makkah and the 
Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, completed in the mid-1990s. 

59 Paper by Friedrich Ragette, 'An American University in the 
Arabian Desert (status of spring 2000)', op. cit. 

60 I am grateful to the Dean, Professor Martin Giesen, and students 
of the School of Architecture at the AUS for supplying me with 
these measurements. 

61 Ragette, op. cit. 

62 Robin Allen, 'The Financial Times United Arab Emirates 
Survey', in Education, 21 December 1999. In conversation 
with Robin Allen, he elaborates: 'far from being inspired by 
something from the tradition of the Arabian peninsula, . . . [the] 
design is reminiscent of not so much Mughal architecture as a 


pastiche of the maharajah of Jodhpur's palace, completed in 
1940, which itself is almost a pure copy of Lutyens's design - or at 
least the design for which Lutyens was given the credit - of the 
New Delhi government buildings with the grand sweep, huge 
scale, and mix of British Raj government practicality and sense of 
power, combined with Mughal grace and elegance. The concept 
doesn't come off in Jodhpur because it's so obviously a copy - it 
has some hint of provincial power, but ends up being rather 
stuffy, altogether lacking the sweeping inspiration and scale 
of Lutyens's government buildings. Even more so does AUS fail 
- because it lacks all three qualities - scale, sweep and power - 
and all one is left with is a kind of vanilla icing effect like a stage 
setting - a copy of a copy, so to speak.' Robin Allen, Dubai, 
September 2000. 

Housing Development in Al 'Ayn 

1 The text for this contribution is based on an interview held with 
Talal M. Abdullah (Head of Planning and Design, Government 
of Abu Dhabi, Town Planning Department, al 'Ayn) in al 'Ayn, 
April 1997. 

2 'Post Occupancy Evaluation', a research paper presented to 
the 'UAE Housing and Urban Planning Conference', UAE 
University, February 1986. 

3 The origins of these strictures can be found in the boom in urban 
expansion of 1985, which necessitated permits to be granted on 
the spot to facilitate fast-track construction. 

4 This occurred in al Shahamah or Na'il and in the other new 
residential developments on the main road between Abu Dhabi 
and Dubai, which were effectively built in the middle of 
nowhere, out of nothing, on the instructions of the Shaykhs. 

5 This settlement policy was implemented extensively in the south: 
100 houses in al Zahirah, al 'Ayn, 200 houses at al Qaw', and 100 
houses at al Wajan, all incorporating a distribution of new fields. 

The Islamic Architecture of Dalma Island 

1 In March and April 1 992 , the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological 
Survey (AD IAS) carried out fieldwork on a number of offshore 
islands in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi including the island 
of Dalma. The AD IAS team undertook a preliminary survey of 
Dalma, as well as the islands of Sir Bani Yas and Marawah to 
identify archaeological remains and to recommend what level 
of protection should be provided where sites were threatened 
by development. The ADIAS team is based at the School of 
Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, 
and in Abu Dhabi, and is directed by the present writer. Team 
members in 1992 included Miss Beatrice de Cardi OBE, Ms 
Robyn Stocks, Mrs Caroline Lehmann, Ms Fiona Baker, Mrs 
Joan Wucher King, and Mr David Connally. Mr Connally was 
responsible for producing for ADIAS the ground plans and the 
elevations published here. 

The results of the first season on the islands are recorded in 
G R D King, Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (ADIAS 1), 
'An Archaeological Survey of $ir Bani Yas, Dalma, and Marwah' 
(21 March to 21 April 1992). 

2 K. Flavin and E. Shepherd, 'Fishing in the Gulf: Preliminary 
Investigations at an Ubaid Site, Dalma, (UAE)', Proceedings of the 
Seminar for Arabian Studies 24 (1994), pp. 115-34. 

3 G. Harter, S. Cleuziou, J. P. Laffont, J. Nockin and R. Toussaint, 
Emirat d'Abu Dhabi. Propositions pour Dalma, (Sept.-Oct., 1979), 
pp. 10-15. 

4 G. R. D. King, 'Islamic Architecture in Eastern Arabia', Proceedings 
of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 8 (1978), p. 28, PL 11. 

5 Muhammad J. al-Khulayfi, Al-'Imarat al-Taqlidlyah fi Qatar, 
p. 129, PL 52. 

6 G. R. D. King, 'Islamic Architecture in Eastern Arabia', Proceedings 
of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 8 (1978), pp. 15-28. 

7 G. R. D. King, 'Bayt al-Mu'ayyad. A Late Nineteenth-Century 
House of al-Bahrayn' , Arabian Studies 4 (1978), pp. 27-45. 

8 In the course of the restorations by the Sharjah Department of 
Antiquities, underlying structures were located beneath the al 
Muraykhi mosque which were accompanied by late Islamic 
ceramics of the Julfar horizon, i.e., c. fourteenth/fifteenth- 
seventeenth centuries AD. 

9 These were excavated by the British team excavating at Julfar in 
Ra's al Khaymah in 1991/1992. 

10 Local terminology for these windows was either darlshah or 
darayish (pi). 

1 1 Large beams used in roofing were termed danchil or danshal 
(shandal). The wood, like all the other wood in these buildings, 
was said to have come from India. 

12 We were told that the short column on the mihrab signified the 
Shl'ah associations of the mosque. I am by no means sure of the 
correctness of this, although the column is not a general feature of 
mosques in the region. 

13 The mosque was no longer in use in 1992 and was collapsing, 
with its roofing lost and doors and window shutters hanging 
from their hinges: however, since then, like the rest of the Dalma 
buildings, it has been restored. 

14 The term used for these doors was dirwazah.The wood used 
for doors at Dalma was teak (sajj or sayy) said to have come 
from India. The carpenters (najjarln) who did the wood carving 
were from Dalma itself. By contrast, we were told that the 
specialists who built the finest structures were from Iran. The 
builders were huwala, i.e. Arabs from the Iranian shore of 
the Gulf. 

15 D. Whitehouse, 'Excavations at Siraf. Fifth Interim Report', 
p. 74 and fig. 7, p. 75. 

16 B. de Cardi, Qatar Archaeological Report: Excavations 1973, p. 190 
and Pis xxxi-xxxii; H. Kapel, 'Rock Carvings at Jebel Jusasiyah, 
Qatar', Arrayan, no. 8 (unseen); W. Facey, 'The Boat Carvings 
at Jabal al-Jussasiyah, Northeast Qatar', Proceedings of the Seminar 
for Arabian Studies 17 (1987), pp. 199-222; D. F. Hawkins, 

'Primitive Rock Carvings in Qatar', Proceedings of the Sejninarfor 
Arabian Studies 17 (1987), p. 54. 

17 G. R. D. King, The Historical Mosques of Saudi Arabia, pp. 168-9. 

18 D. Whitehouse, Siraf III. The Congregational Mosque and other 
Mosques from the Ninth to the Twelfth Centuries, p. 9. 

19 E. Diez, 'Eine schiitische Moschee-ruine aus der Insel Bahrein', 
Jahrbuch des asiatischen Kunstl (1925), pp. 101-5. 

20 The Ibn Khamis mosque (1186/1772-3), the 'Abd Razzaq 
mosque (12 12/1797-8), the al Khahfah mosque (mid-nineteenth 
century?), the al Thaiba mosque, the Dayj mosque and the 
mosque of Ibn Ibrahim bin Isma'il (133 1/1912-3): Lewcock and 
Freeth, pp. 72-7. 



21 Ibid. pp. 180-2. These include the two-storey Rajihlya mosque, 
and a mosque in the oasis north of the town. 

22 Ibid. pp. 184-8; the jamt and a fragmentary mosque both existed 
in 1972-3, but vanished thereafter. 

23 Ibid. pp. 169-77. The mosque of Ibrahim 977/1569-70; the al 
Jabri (820/1417); the aljabri mosque (963/1555-6); the Sharafiya 
mosque; and the Maghluth mosque nearby at al Mubarraz. 

24 An 'Abbasid mosque has been excavated at Marwab in northern 
Qatar while a number of later mosques have been published, 
including the Ibn 'Abd al Wahhab mosque at al Khawr, the Abu 
Qubayb mosque; the al Dhukhayra mosque; the mosque of 
Umm Salal Muhammad, the mosque of Umm Swai Jah and 
the Mosque of Sumaismah. See especially Muhammad J. 
al-Khulayfi, Al-'Imgrat al-Taqlidlyah ft Qatar. See also C. 
Hardy-Guilbert, 'Recherches sur la Periode Islamique au Qatar', 
Mission archeologique frangaise, pp. 111-27; esp. pp. 112-18. 

C. Hardy-Guilbert, V. Aitzegagh and V. Defert, Qatar: fann 
aWhnarat/Qatar: architectures, pp. 16-19. 

25 Walter Dostal, The Traditional Architecture of Ras al-Khaimah 
(North), p. 47. 

26 G. R. D. King, 'Excavations of the British Team at Julfar, 
Ras-al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates: Interim Report on the 
Second Season (1990)', Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian 
Studies 21 (1991), pp. 123-34; 'Excavations of the British Team 
at Julfar, Ras-al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates: Interim 
Report on the Third Season', Proceedings of the Seminar for 
Arabian Studies 22 (1992), pp. 47-54. 

27 P. M. Costa, Musandam. Architecture and Material Culture of a 
Little Known Region of Oman, pp. 72-6. 

28 N. H. al-'Abudl, Masjid al-Bidiyya (Dirasat arkeulujiya tarlkhlya); 

D. Willems and S. Allaire, 'Bidiyah Mosque', in C. Hardy- 
Guilbert, French Archaeological Mission at Julfar, United Arab 
Emirates, pp. 73-6. 

29 D. Whitehouse, Siraflll. The Congregational Mosque, p. 56. 

30 G. R. D. King, Historical Mosques, pp. 184—6. 

31 Ibid., e.g. pp. 126, 131, 132, 134, 146-9, 154-5, 162, 164. 

32 Ibid., pp. 93-4. 

33 Ibid., pp. 60-1. 

34 E. Rutter, The Holy Cities of Arabia, p. 5 1 . 

35 S. A. al-Rashid, Al-Rabadha. A Portrait of Early Islamic Civilisation 
in Saudi Arabia, pp. 22-3. 

36 D. Whitehouse, Siraflll. The Congregational Mosque, pp. 30-57. 

37 G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, 'Manara, Manar' (3. East Africa), 
Encyclopaedia of Islam. 

38 G. Hardy-Guilbert, 'Recherches sur la Periode Islamique', p. 114. 

39 R. Lewcock and Z. Freeth, Traditional Architecture in Kuwait and 
the Northern Gulf pp. 72-3. 

40 D. Whitehouse, Siraflll. The Congregational Mosque, pp. 4-9; 
Figs 3-4. 

41 G. R. D. King, Historical Mosques, pp. 172-3. 

42 G. R. D. King, 'Excavations of the British Team at Julfar, 
Ras-al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates: Interim Report on the 
Third Season', Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 
(1992) 22, p. 49, Figs 1,2. 

43 E. Essaian and D. Willems, 'Falayah Mosque', in C. Hardy- 
Guilbert, French Archaeological Mission at Julfar, United Arab 
Emirates, pp. 68-72. 

44 P. M. Costa, Musandam-: Architecture and Material Culture, p. 72 . 

45 G. R. D. King, Historical Mosques, pp. 172-3; p. 185. 

46 N. H. al-'Abudi, Masjid al-Bidiyya, p. 26; D. Willems and S. 
Allaire, 'Bidiyah Mosque', Fig. 44. 

47 G. R. D. King, Historical Mosques, pp. 171-2. 

48 Ibid, pp. 38-9. 

49 Ibid, pp. 117-20. 

50 Ibid, pp. 147-8. 

51 J. Schacht, 'Ein archaischer Minaret-typ in Agypten und 
Anatolien', Arslslamica 5 (1938), pp. 30-57. 

The Urban Architecture of Al Bastikiyyah 

1 F. Heard-Bey, From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates, p. 19. 

2 Ibid, p. 242. 

3 According to Alison Coles and Peter Jackson, A Windtower 
House in Dubai, p. 4, the decision for some families to move 
permanently to Dubai was precipitated by Reza Shan's legislation 
in 1936 abolishing the use of the veil. 

4 The al Fahidi Fort, built in 1799, is the oldest surviving structure 
in Dubai and was used as a residence of the Ruler until 1890. The 
Fort is now a part of the Dubai Museum. 

5 A. Coles and P. Jackson, A Windtower House in Dubai, p. 2 . 

6 According to D. E.J. Morris, p. 8. 'the town plan was drawn up at 
a critical moment in Dubai's history, before the construction 
boom of the succeeding decades. Sheikh Rahid himself was 
personally involved in considering the main aspects of the plan 

7 F. Heard-Bey, From, Trucial States to United Arab Emirates, p. 263. 

8 A. Coles and P. Jackson, A Windtower House in Dubai, p. 10. 

9 Ibid, p. 10. 

10 Ibid, p. 13. 

11 Marco Polo, p. 312. 

12 A. Coles and P. Jackson, A Windtower House in Dubai, p. 1 3 . 

13 Ibid, p. 18. 

14 Ibid, p. 18. 

15 Ibid, p. 14. 

16 Ibid, p. 18. 

17 Ibid, p. 8. 

18 Ibid, p. 8. 

19 According to R. Codrai in Palm Fronds, Coral-stone and Gypsum: 
The Architectural Heritage of the United Arab Emirates one of the 
ways of widening a room 'was to strengthen the walls and use 
them to support a heavy teak beam - often cut from the old mast 
of a ship - on which the shandal poles could be laid.' 

20 A. Coles and P. Jackson, A Windtower House in Dubai, p. 8. 

21 Ibid, p. 8. 

22 Petrified coral stones are still available in coastal areas. 
'Traditional Architecture of Dubai', Arts and the Islamic World, 

23 A. Coles and P. Jackson, A Windtower House in Dubai, p. 8. 

24 Ibid, p. 10. 

25 Plot ratio is the relationship between plot area and floor space, a 
plot ratio of 1 : 1 would produce a single-storey building over 100 
per cent of the site, or a two-storey building over half the site. 
Plot ratio is a useful tool for analysing existing development and 
for controlling new development as it can be used to directly 
control building massing and urban form. 



26 'The water table is tidal and has resulted in weak foundations. 
The weight of the masonry windtowers can cause vertical cracking 
in the walls beneath. Further weakening of the masonry has been 
caused by thermal stress. Much of the timber has been heavily 
attacked by insects.' A. Coles and P. Jackson, A Windtower House 
in Dubai, p. 28. 

27 Over fifty single labourers per dwelling have been recorded. 

The Ancient Mosques of Ra's al Khaymah 

1 On this subject, B.J. Slot in The Arabs of the Gulf, 1602-1784, 
p. 49, points out that European travellers hardly ever ventured 
inland; did they think these territories were too hostile, or of 
little economic interest? 

2 In an article published in Paris, 1979, S. Cleuziou was already 
making similar suggestions with regard to the architectural 
heritage of the island of Dalma (Emirate of Abu Dhabi): 'Comme 
partout, l'irruption de la vie moderne est a Dalma une menace 
pour les vestiges du passe.' [The invasion of modern life is to 
Dalma, as it is everywhere else, a threat to the remnants of the 
past.] On the subject of the Islamic ruins brought to light in that 
work, the reader should turn to the contribution of Dr G. King 
in this book. 

3 The task began in 1995 during a French archaeological expedition 
in Julfar, led by Dr C. Hardy-Guilbert. In the spring of 1996 
an assignment was undertaken, thanks to the backing of His 
Excellency Shaykh Sultan bin $aqr al Qasimi, Director of the 
Department of Antiquities and Museums of Ra's al Khaymah. 

4 The results, having been obtained, will be published in part in a 
work in preparation. The entirety of the study will take the form 
of a doctoral thesis soon to be undertaken in Paris IV-Sorbonne. 

5 Certain characteristics are duplicated in distant territories. One 
example among these is the positioning of the mihrab or minbar'm 
an apse. This feature is reproduced in mosques built in eastern 
Africa. Do they have a common origin? Perhaps Yemeni or 
Omani? If so, which communities transported this innovation? 

6 Several different written forms of this name are to be found in 
ancient literature: Regoyma, Ragolhiman, Racolmia, Rachollima, 
or Ras'ul-Khema. Ra's al Khaymah is sometimes linked with the 
port of Djulfar/Julfar, notorious well before the sixteenth century 
AD (tenth century AH). The ruins of this city were partially 
excavated by a combined international study consisting of 
four teams. Among these, a French team (led by Dr C. Hardy- 
Guilbert) concentrated on the fortifications, while a British party 
(under the guidance of Dr G. King) carried out its research on 
the different construction phases of the nearby mosque, which 
stands directly east of the said fortifications. 

7 B. J. Slot, The Arabs of the Gulf, pp. 23ff. They had control of 
territory that varied considerably in dimension over the centuries. 
It is certain that their links with the northern coasts and 
their domination of the Omani Peninsula made an impact on 
economic and cultural levels. 

8 W. Dostal, The Traditional Architecture of Ras al-Khaimah (No7th), 
p. 47: 'The influence of this movement on cult buildings had a 
lasting effect inasmuch as it forbade, among other things, saint- 
worship and pilgrimages to the tombs of saints.' 

9 A city on the coast, about 12 miles south of the capital, Ra's al 

1 Information supplied by His Excellency Shaykh Sultan bin $aqr al 
Qasimi, Director of the Department of Antiquities and Museums. 

1 1 The Qawasim were a branch of the Huwala, and originated from 
the Iranian coast. See G. Rentz, 'Al-Kawasim' in Encyclopedic de 
Plslam, pp. 808ff; A.M. Morsey, The United Arab Emirates, A 
Modem Histoiy, p. 39. 

12 The jami 1 is sometimes called the Friday mosque or Great 
Mosque. Although the first appellation could be justified because 
of the large congregation attracted on the principal day of prayer, 
the latter is misleading as this type of mosque is not necessarily 
as majestic and spacious as this title might suggest (cf. the 
mosque in Falayyah, no. 2). 

13 MA. Biancifiori, Works of Architectural Restoration in Oman, 
pp. 148ff. 

14 Excavated by British teams led by Dr G. King. 

15 Excavated in April 1996 by an expedition led by D. Willems. 
This mosque was brought to light thanks to the collaboration of 
a local dignitary whose father used to perform his ritual prayers 
there every day. 

16 According to a preliminary report made by D. Connolly in 1993. 
'An Explanation as to the Phasing of British Julfar, Seasons 
III-V; Mosque and Occupation Area, Preliminary Report, 
September 1993'. The final study will be published in a collection 
of works concerning research carried out on the Julfar site 
between 1989 and 1995. 

17 The use of stone in order to reinforce the foundations and the 
mud brick walls of the Julfar fortifications is manifest. See C. 
Hardy-Guilbert, Mission archeologique a Julfar, Emirate Arabe 

18 D. Kerrnet, The Towers ofRas al-Khaimah, p. 6. 

1 9 Mankrur is a term in common use, used to describe the palm-leaf 
matting which is stretched over the beams in order to support the 
earthen roof-covering. 

20 The badgir, or malqaf is the windcatcher and traditional type of 
ventilation system. 

2 1 W. Dostal, The Traditional Architecture ofRas al-Khaimah (Noith), 
p. 47. 

The Forts and Towers of Al 'Ayn 

1 The Buraimi Dispute, vol. 1, pp. 645-6. 

2 Ibn Hilal papers, no number or dates, Documentation Centre, 
Abu Dhabi. 

3 See The Buraimi Dispute, vol. 22, and Buraimi Memorials. 

4 A. Ibn Qaysar, Sirat Nasir bin Murshid, p. 89. 

5 P. Cox, 'Some Excursions in Oman', The Geographical Journal, 
LXVL July 1925. 

6 SeeJ.C. Wilkinson, Thelmamate Tradition of Oman, pp. 249-316. 

In Search of the Vernacular 

1 In his published MA thesis, Durham University, based on field 
work he did in 1987 and updated in 1991, Graham Anderson 
gives an account of the old quarters, prominent houses and the 
recommendation to restore the existing architectural heritage. 
The mosques of Sharjah that he mentions are: Masjid al 
Nabudah, Masjid al Zar'uni or al Zara'inah, Masjid al Khan, 
Masjid al Manani'ah and Masjid al Liyyah. Sharjah (UAE): The 
Urban Conservation Dilemma. 













A.S. al 'Azzawl was responsible for conservation projects in Iraq 

that included the transfer of 'Anah minaret, the conservation and 

repairs on Nabl Yunis mosque in Musul (Mosul), Husn al Ukhaydir 

and the old town of Basrah. The procedures and techniques he 

used in the above and in the conservation rebuilding works in 

Sharjah are documented in his Al tarmlm walsiyanah lil mabanl al 

athariyyah wal turathiyyah (The Repair and Maintenance of 

Archaeological and Heritage Buildings). 

A.S. al 'Azzawl, Al tarmlm, walsiyanah lil mabanl al athariyyah vial 

turathiyyah (The Repair and Maintenance of Archaeological and 

Heritage Buildings). 

The conservation of this suq is the subject of a paper by Nasir al 

'Abudl. In it he gives an account of the suq having flourished in 

the period between the 1930s and the early 1960s. The ground 

area after the complete renovation is 8,522 square feet, of which 

the shops occupy 498 square feet, and the central square 404 

square feet. 'Trmim suq al 'arasah bil Shariqah', in The 'Uways 

Awards Book, second cycle, 1991. 

Graham Anderson, Shaijah, pp. 204-6, 247. 

Ibid. p. 220. 

See S.S. Damluji, Glossary in The Architecture of Oman. 

See chapter by K. Olroyd-Robinson in this book. 

Al Diwan al Amin byJ.R. Harris Architects, and submitted to the 

Aga Khan Award. (Also mentioned by this writer in the 'Brave 

New Cities' chapter in this book.) 

This department developed from the Unit for the Restoration 

of Archaeological Buildings that was formed 1991, and was 

responsible for several projects including the conservation of 

Husn al Fahldi (currently Dubai Museum) and Hats village. 

See Historic Buildings Department, Dubai Municipality, 'The 

Conservation of the Architectural Heritage in Dubai Emirate, 

Arabic'. Part of the Municipality's documentation, listing the 

main projects with the historic background and information on 

the building, appeared in 'Traditional Architecture of Dubai', 

Special Supplement, Arts and the Islamic World, nos. 27 & 28. 

Based on field research conducted with the assistance of the 

Municipality in 1996. I am particularly grateful to Rashad 

Bukhash and 'Adil Mahjub 'Abdullah of the Historic Buildings 

Department for supplying both the information and the 

Municipality architectural survey files of the buildings published 


For the 1995 Award Cycle, Restoration of Shaykh Sa'id House 

(project identification no. UAE P000865), courtesy of the Aga 

Khan Award for Architecture, Geneva. 

See The Conservation of the Architectural Heritage, Dubai 

Municipality, pp. 17-20. 

Ibid. pp. 38-9. 

W. Dostal, The Traditional Architecture of Ras al-Khaimah (North), 

pp. 11-25. 

Derek Kennet, The Towers of Ras alKhaimah, p. 25. 

See ibid, for an account on these two towers and the architectural 

surveys, pp. 48-51. 

Thanks to the suggestion and organization of HE The Minister 

of Information and Culture, Shaykh 'Abdullah bin Zayid Al 

Nahyan a helicopter journey was carried out with the Bu'ayn Air 

Force in April 1998. 

Nasir Hussain a l 'Abudl, MasjidalBidyah. 

21 See S.S. Damluji, The Architecture of Oman, pp. 367-71. 

22 Al 'Abudl, p. 28. 

23 See S.S. Damluji, The Architecture of Oman, pp. 310-12. 

24 Al 'Abudl, p. 25. 


abraj tower khyat 

'arish date-palm or coconut-palm frond stems, 

commonly used as a building material llw an 

'arlshah palm-frond house with a sloping roof madar 

ba l unit of measurement- the span of outstretched madrasah 

arms majlis 

bad glr mid-wall windcatcher for building ventilation malqaf 

(also malqaf) mankrur 
bahrl marjani a type of building stone, differentiated into two 

types: bim and salafa mashrabiyyah 

bannay traditional builder masjid 

barasti (not an Arabic word): palm-frond house matbakh 

basjil bamboo lattice used for roofing, said to be mhalwasah 

imported from India mihrab 

bayt sha'ar winter tent erected outside a dwelling for the minbar 

reception of visitors murabba'ah 

burj tower narjll 

dakkah elevated platform at the front of a house for the qiblah 

erection of a bayt sha l ar qamah 
danchil/danshal large beam used in traditional roofing 

darlsh rectangular flat-roofed house constructed of mud raddah 

bricks riwaq 
darlshah rectangular window with vertical iron bars 

dhira 1 unit of length, equal to the length of the forearm sabat 

(approximately one-and-a-half feet) sa'falnakhil 

dirwazah ceremonial doors of a dwelling or gateway sahn 

dlwaniyyah men's reception area in a dwelling saj/sayy 

drayish opening in a wall for a window or niche salhah 

du'un palm-tree branches saruj 

falaj irrigation tunnel 

fana' central courtyard of a dwelling (also hlwl, hawi, sas 

hawsh) sayfah 

farkhah smaller door within the dirwazah, for everyday shandal/chandal 


farush a traditional form of plaster sikkah 

hammam bath sintwanah 

hawi seefana sur 

hawsh seefana tabuq 

hibal kumbar rope made from narjll fibre takhee 

hiwl seefana takhil 

hum the Ruler's fortress palace tawf 

iwan see liwan tawi 

jami' Friday mosque (as opposed to masjid) tin 

jarid scraped palm-frond stalks tub libin 

juss gypsum plaster zillij 

karln variation of khaymah 

khaymah tent - word also used for a primitive palm-frond 

kbits woven matting from palm fronds used for ceiling 


renovation technique of reinforcing cracked walls 

with horizontal ties, literal meaning is 'stitching' 

colonnaded walkway (also iwan) 

sun-baked bricks 


traditional reception 


palm-frond matting stretched over roof beams to 

support roof covering 

wooden window grille or screen 

mosque for daily use (as opposed to jami 1 ) 


polygonal tower 

qiblah niche in the mosque 


tower house, square 

coconut palm 

orientation of a building towards Mecca 

unit for measuring room height, literal meaning 

is the height of a person 

L-shaped house entrance 

entrance space or chamber; external area of a 

mosque used for prayer 

space which opens onto a courtyard 

woven panels of palm fronds 


teak imported from India for fine carpentry 

wall rendering using juss 

a type of mortar made by mixing red clay and 

manure, then dried and baked 


summer house in the mountain regions 

mangrove wood imported from East Africa or 




wall surrounding a building 

sea-sand lime building blocks, bricks 

back door of a house (Persian) 


adobe bricks 

water well 


mud brick 

cut glazed tiles used in Islamic patterns for floors 

and murals 



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Salma Samar Damluji 

The research for this book required several cross country journeys over the 
period 1996-1998 in search of the architecture, material, contributors and 
architects, and this work would not have been possible without the cooperation, 
encouragement and hospitality of officials in the United Arab Emirates. I am 
therefore grateful to HH Shaykh 'Abdullah bin Zayid Al Nahyan, Minister of 
Information and Culture for hosting me in the Emirates and assisting me with 
the coordination of my visits to sites and remote locations of the Northern 
Emirates; HH Shaykh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of 
Education for our meetings and discussions over this work; Abu Dhabi Air 
Force for flying me out for aerial photography on two occasions; Ibrahim Al 
Abed, Adviser, Ministry of Information & Culture and Director, External 
Information Department, for organizing and facilitating my visits. 

I am indebted to HM Ambassador Anthony Harris and Sophie Harris, 
Shaykhah Shamsah bint Hamdan, David and Hafida Latta of the British 
Council, Robert and Laura Sykes of the British Council, Abadi Arkan Abadi of 
Arkan Consultants and Architects, Abbad al Radi and Nazar Ahmad of Planar 
for the hospitality and assistance they gave me while I was in Abu Dhabi. 
Nassouh al Amin, GM All Prints and Publishing, was of essential support in 
establishing the momentum and follow-up of the research. His contribution 
infacilitating my work and his assistance with each visit provided an invaluable 
resource of attention and kindness. 

In al Sharjah, HH Shaykh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al QasimI, Ruler 
of al Sharjah for his interest in the work and the unfailing assistance I was 
granted, particularly by Dr A. S. al Azzawi and Abdul 'Aziz bin Shuhail, 
Director of Heritage at the Department of Culture and Information. Nasir al 
Abudl for making available his research for my documentation; and Christian 
Velde and Imke Moellering, Resident Archaeologists at the National Museum 
of Ra's al Khaymah. 

In Dubai, Rashad Bukhash, Head of die Historical Buildings Section and 
Adel M Abdalla, Head of the Studies and Research Unit, Historical Buildings 
Section, Dubai Municipality. 

In al 'Ayn, Ahmad Mohammed Shareef, Director, Town Planning 
Department, al Ayn and Talal 'Abdullah for their contribution and assistance 
in reviewing the project on my several visits to al Ayn, and Dr M. Hasan Al 
Naboodah for his research on the forts and traditional fabric of al Ayn. 

My thanks are also due to Dr Suha Ozkan, Jack Kennedy and Bill 
O'Reilly at the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Geneva for providing unlimited 
access and help with researching the Award archives, which allowed me to 
review the documentation of architectural projects nominated for the Award 
that would have otherwise proved difficult to source. 

I am grateful and indebted to the encouragement and support of HH 
Shaykh Sultan Bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister who valued the con- 
tribution of such research to the understanding and development of 
architectural thought and future design in the cities of the UAE. His vision 
and profound sense of appreciation for the cultural traditions and environment 
will undoubtedly provide a different approach to the importance and meaning 
of creative modern architecture. 

The manuscript for this book was completed in 1999 and updated in the 
fall of 2000 with the addition of new projects in the UAE. 

The Islamic Architecture of Dahna Island - Geoffrey King 

HH President Shaykh Zayed b. Sultan Al Nahyan kindly gave permission for 
the fieldwork to be carried out in 1992 and received us on Sir BanI Yas at the 

end of Ramadan. HE Shaykh Nahyan b. Mubarak Al Nahyan generously 
supported the project and encouraged the idea of the Abu Dhabi Islands 
Archaeological Survey (ADIAS) from its inception. Mr Peter Hellyer, 
Coordinator of the ADIAS project and the then Chairman of Emirates 
Natural History Group was instrumental in the organization of our fieldwork 
and did an immense amount to bring it to a successful conclusion. 

Much local support was given at Dahna, which is greatly appreciated, and 
we particularly would like to thank Mr Ghassan al Ghossain for his efficient 
organization of the team's travel and accommodation on the islands. We 
acknowledge the assistance given to us in Dalma by Mr Eid al Mazru'l of the 
Dahna baladiyah who actively and frequently participated in our work. Mr Sa'ld 
al Ghurayba and members of his family gave us a great deal of information 
about Dalma: we thank him and his family both for this and for their 

The UAE Air Force transported the team and we express our thanks to 
the aircrew involved. Generous support was also given to the project by 
Dr Peter Clark, formerly Director of the British Council, Emirates Airlines, 
the al Fahim Group, Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations 
(ADCO), the Union National Bank, Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi National Hotel 
Company, Wimpey (Abu Dhabi), Spinneys, and the Higher Colleges of 
Technology, Abu Dhabi. Without this support, the team would have been 
unable to carry out the project and we express our thanks to all our sponsors. 

Mr David Connolly, an ADIAS team member, drew the plans and 

Illustration credits 

The Publishers would like to thank the individuals and organizations whose 
assistance and cooperation made this book possible. Every effort has been 
made to trace the copyright holders and we apologize in advance for any 
unintentional omissions. We will be happy to insert the appropriate 
acknowledgment in any subsequent edition. 

All illustrations are courtesy of Salma Samar Damluji except: 

Aga Khan Award for Architecture: for drawings in 'Brave New Cities' 

AKAA, Geneva: 54-5, 58, 125-7 

American University of Sharjah, 2000: 94, 95, 96 (top), 98, 99 

Arkan Architects and Consultants: 48-52, 103 

WS Atkins and Partners Overseas: 79, 81, 86 

B.P.: all illustrations in Adapting to Change' 

Garnet Publishing Limited, Translucent City, 1998: 43-7 

Geoffrey King: all illustrations in 'The Islamic Architecture of Dalma Island' 

GEOprojects (UK) Ltd: vi-vii, 104 

Hassan Muhammad Al Naboodah: all illustrations in 'The Forts and Towers 

of Al 'Ayn' 

NORR Group Consultants International Limited: 60-3, 67, 70 (top), 72, 74 

(top), 77 (top and right) 

NORR Group Consultants International Limited (Bob Harr of Hedrich 

Blessing): 65, 66,69, 71,73,75 

Keith Olroyd-Robinson: illustrations in 'The Urban Architecture of Al 


Didier Willems: all illustrations in 'The Ancient Mosques of Ra's al 


Zaha Hadid Studio, London: 29, 30, 119 


Photographs are indicated by page references in italic . Extended discussion of a 
building, including photographs, is indicated by page references in bold. 

ablution facilities, in mosques 1 76, 2 18 
Abu Dhabi 7, 16, 29, 30, 3 1-3, 33, 36, 

103, 269 
Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore 

Oil Operations Headquarters 

Abu Dhabi Marine Operating 

Company Headquarters 116 
Armed Forces Officers' Club and 

Conference Centre 43-7 
Al Batin Airport 106 
Baynunah Tower 48-52,136, 

British Embassy 1 08 
Central Hospital 105 
Central Market 113 
Central Meat, Fish, Fruit and 

Vegetables Market 128-9 
Central Post Office 115 
Chamber of Commerce and Industry 

Tower 111 
Cultural Foundation 105,107, 

124-7, 142 
Etisalat Headquarters Building 

Forte Grand Hotel 60, 13 1-2 
Hotel Intercontinental 131 
Al Husn p a lace 13-14, 27, 107, 

108, 124 
Jazira 105 
Khaledya Cooperative Society 

Building 25, 129-30 
Library and Cultural Centre 25, 

28, 124 
Al Maqta' Bridge 106 
Al Maqta' fort 252-3 
Marina Mall 106 
Meridien Hotel 34 
Ministry of Finance and Industry 

Al Muhairy Centre 60 
Municipality and Planning Complex 

105, 107 
Al Musaffah Bridge 106 
National Museum of al Ayn 30 
Al Omairah Residence 34 

Rabdan Complex 115, 137 
Raisa Bint Darwish Building 

Shaykh Khalifah Hospital 105 
Shaykh Khalifah Public Park 106 
Shaykh Saif Bin Muhammad Bin 

Butti Building 134-5 
Union National Bank Head Office 

Building 60, 133-4 
al Wahda Sports Centre 30 
British School 13 
central business district 109 
city plan 103-6 
Development Plan 119 
expansion beyond island 1 1 8-19 
first-generation buildings 117 
gardens 105, 106 
grid-iron plan 101,103,107,111, 

New Third Bridge Crossing project 

open spaces 110-11 
parking provision 122 
plot sizes 110,117,121,141-2 
road layout 118 
road transport 106,110,111,122 
al Shahamah 119 
town planning 3 1-3, 35-6 
urban development 11-12, 
Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey 

al Abudi, Nasir 304, 305, 3 14n 
adobe 84, 145 
Aga Khan Award for Islamic Architecture 

54, 58, 59 
agriculture 143 
Ahmad bin Dalmuk, Shaykh 294 
air-conditioning 195 
air shafts 245 
alcoves 250,251-2 
Al 'All, Salih Ahmad 240 
aluminium 54,113,115,133,134 
Anderson, Graham 313n 
Arab cities 25-6,28 
Arab/Islamic tradition 23-5,99 
on Dalma island 151-76 

in modern architecture 24, 26-7, 33, 
36,44,99, 113,116, 122, 124, 
128-9, 134, 142 
arcades 94, 124, 140, 142, 185, 294 
arches 23,112,113,116,219,306 

blind 58, 154, 155, 156, 160, 164, 

166,167,171, 193,278, 289, 300 

broken 156 

Gothic 96,212 

horseshoe 88 

lobed 251 

semi-circular 58, 170, 193, 251 

use of in modern architecture 122, 
The Architects Collaborative (TAC) 

architectural heritage 142-3 

Dubai 288-97 

reconstruction of 265-85 
architectural profession, in Abu Dhabi 

architectural style 142-3 
Ardalan, Nader 116 
'artsh 8,35,39,40,41,140 

see also palm fronds 
Arkan Architects 48,136 
Ash-Shimal mosque 209, 210, 211, 

216, 220 
Atkins, WS and Partners 79, 86 
AT Ayn 33 

forts 35,223-5,226-37 

housing development 139-44 

original housing 3 5-6 
Al 'Ayn oasis 8, 10, 35, 143, 145-6 
Al 'Ayn University 36, 37-8 
al Azzawi, AS. 151,268,269 


bad glr (windcatchers) 154, 155, 156, 

160,173,176, 184, 218, 244, 303 
Baghdad 26 

Bahrain, mosques in 173, 175 
al-Baladhin 240 
balconies 183, 192, 194 
BaniYas 39,180,224,225 
barasti houses 8, 15, 181, 183, 191 

re-development of 182 

see also 'arish 



Baris 26 

al Bastakiyyah (Dubai) 179,183-95 
conservation of 197-203 
development of 181-3,195-6 

battlements, of murabba'at 252-3, 263 

Baynunah Tower (Abu Dhabi) 48-52, 

Bayt al Bahr (Dubai) 82, 83, 84-5 

Bayt al Muraykhi (Dalma Island) 1 52-6 

beam and column principle 189 

Bedouin 8,9,11 

settlements in Liwa 39, 40-1 
urbanization of 40-1, 140, 143 

Bida' Zayid 36 

al Bidiya mosque 173,175,3 04-5 

BilnJ. 309n 

boat drawings 170,171-2 

breeze-blocks 15,210,218 

bricks 213,249,255 

mud 23,35,213,247,249,255,299, 

sand 213 

Brown, K. and Cantacuzino, S. 27 

Buckminster Fuller and Frei Otto 44 

building plots, size of 110,117,121, 

al Bukha' mosque 173,175 

Burj al-Arab (Dubai) 79, 86-92 

'Cairene' style 93-4 
Cairo, Sultan Hasan mosque 24 
canopies 252, 306, 307 
capitals 116,160,192,194 
cars 17 

see also parking provision 
cement 15, 159, 164, 167, 190 
Chadirji, Rifaat 27 
cities 25-6 
Civic Design Studio 54 
clay 223, 255 
Cleuziou, S. 151,3 13n 
climate 5 

effect on design 1 84-5 
coastal area, housing 11-12, 301, 307 
cobbles, limestone 301 
Coles, A. and Jackson, P. 1 79-80, 1 84, 

188, 189, 190 
columns 24, £<?, 89, 116, 160, 164, 170, 

polygonal 219 

repair and conservation 284 

on verandas 193 
commercial buildings 15, 102, 121-2, 
133-4, 152,156 

AbuDhabi 31,111-16,129-36,137 

Dubai 60, 62, 64 

and residential 1 02 , 1 05, 1 09 

Committee for the Preservation of the 

Arab Islamic Architectural Style 
concrete 15, 44, 54, 124, 129, 190, 210, 
GRC 15,113,115,135,136,182, 

pre-cast 113, 115, 135 
conservation 270, 283-4 
al Bastakiyyah 197-203 
Dubai 288-97 
Hatta' village 298-9 
construction industry 117-18 
consultant practices 36 
coral 8, 183, 185, 189, 190, 196, 210, 
on houses 12, 23 
on wind towers 181,183 
courtyard houses 183-4, 194-6, 306, 
architectural features 191-4 
construction methods 189-91 
family area 188-9 
plot ratio 195 
public area 187 
courtyards 26, 142, 188, 278 

in modern architecture 54, 58, 59, 

mosques 159, 164, 167, 174 
Cox, P.L. 224 
crenellations 252-3,263 
cultural representation 24, 99 


dakkah 140,254 
Dalma Island 151 

merchant's house 152-6 
mosques 157-76 
al Muraykhi House 256 
date palms 7-8, 9 

see also palm branches; palm fronds; 
palm trees 
Dayah mosques 206,213,215,216, 

220, 221 
Dayrah 12, 180, 181 
decoration 175, 176, 278, 284, 292 
of ancient mosques 2 1 9-2 
dogstooth 156 
oimurabba'at 242 
plaster panels 160, 164, 165, 166-7, 

170, 171, 175, 176, 192, 194 
see also geometric patterns 
Department of Social Services and 

Commercial Buildings (DSSCB) 
Design Review Section 32 
Leasing Section 32 
Technical Section 32 

desert areas, urbanization of 145 

Dewan 137 

Dexter, D. 89 

Dhaid 8 

Diba oasis 8, 10 

domes 128,275,253,505 


courtyard houses 192 
mosques 159-60, 164, 170 
murabba'at 242-3 
Dostal, W. 173,207,221,299 
drainage 164, 190, 214, 216, 111 
Dubai 8, 16, 59, 59 
Bayt al Bahr 82, S3, 84-5 
Bayt al Shaykh Sa'id bin Maktum 

27, 58, 289-92 
Bayt al Turath 296 
Bayt al Wakil 293 
British Bank of the Middle East 

Burj al-Arab 79, 86-92 
City Hall Complex 54-7 
Dalmuk mosque 297 
Diwan of the Emir 27, 59 
Dubai Hospital 59 
Emirates Towers 62, 64-78 
Hilton Hotel 59 
Itihad School 59 
Jumeirah Beach Hotel 79, 80-5 
Jumeirah Beach Resort 79-92 
Khawr Dubai 288 
Madrasat al Ahmadiyyah 294-5 
al Maktum Hospital 59 
Metropolitan Hotel 59 
National Bank of Dubai 

Headquarters Building 59, 
al Ras 288, 294-7 
al Suq al Kabir 288 
Trade Centre Tower 59 
Wild Wadi 79 
see also al Bastakiyyah 
Abra Point 59 
conservation 288-97 
development of 12 
harbour 10,11 
history of 180-1 
alShandaghah 180,181,288 
Dubai Municipality 203, 289, 290 
Historic Buildings Department 180, 

economies, traditional 
El Said, Issam 24 
electricity 1 5